The Hiker's Paradise: Must-Trek Trails in California

Rugged mountains, sapphire waters and deep forests make California perfect for hikers of every level. If the scenery isn't enough, California is home to 26 national parks, 279 state parks and hundreds of hikes. 

Despite cool winter weather in the north, you can hike nearly any time you please further south, so pick a trail and get moving.

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Just Outside the City

California is home to some of the most well-known cities in the country, and just outside are a variety of hiking adventures. If you want to see the city from the inside and out, lace up your boots and find a hike close by.

Northern: Presidio Bay Area Ridge Trail, San Francisco

Within 2.5 miles, you'll witness exquisite views of the bay while you weave between towering trees on a well-kept hiking path. Be sure to visit the National Cemetery Overlook for a panoramic view of the bay and Golden Gate Bridge.

Central: Millerton Lake South Shore Trail, Friant

A scenic 4.9-mile loop winds around Millerton Lake and the Winchell Bay, displaying views of the calm water. Watch for waterfowl on the lake and look up to catch a bald eagle flying overhead. Be wary of the weather. With minimal shade, the trail can reach scorching temperatures in the middle of summer.

Southern: Mount Woodson, Poway

Located just outside of San Diego, this easy to moderate trail is perfect for families. A slow and slight incline leads to rocky switchbacks, with towering boulders all around. Be sure to take a photograph on the famous Potato Chip Rock, which juts out over the side of the cliff-face. The most important tip for this hike: bring plenty of water, you'll need more than you think so bring at least two bottles per person or a full water bladder for each hiker.

More: The Many Benefits of Hiking

Along the Coast

Coastal California is popular for a very good reason. If you've hiked here before you know that the many miles of turquoise water contrasted by treacherous coastal cliffs are intoxicating, calling you back again and again. Take a day off from the beach and head to the trail for a coastal California hike.

Northern: Marin Headlands, San Francisco

Hike along the hills of Northern San Francisco for a scene straight off the cover of a post card. White-capped waves, seaside cliffs and enchanting fog create the ideal coastal San Francisco experience. Prepare for wind, and avoid hiking this area in the rain.

Central: Salmon Creek Trail, Big Sur

Sprawling coastal views dot the landscape as you trek through the Salmon Creek Trail. With two main stopping points—Spruce (2 miles in) and Estrella (3.25 miles in)—you can decide how far you want to go. "If you can keep going all the way to Estrella Camp, this last stretch is highly recommended. You'll get several glimpses of waterfalls and pools along rocky Salmon Creek," suggests experts at HikingBigSur.com. 

Southern: Torrey Pines State Reserve, La Jolla

Striking geography makes this a unique California hike. Start with the Guy Fleming Trail loop. After taking in generous views of the coastline, you stroll through a canopy of Torrey pines, with rolling suburban San Diego hills to the East. After exploring, take the beach trail down the water and walk the shoreline back to your car.

More: 5 San Diego Hiking Trails

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