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Our goal at Maps Over Coffee is to compile the most detailed view of every hike in the United States. We will start with a broad overview of each state and will follow up with more detailed itineraries as quickly as we can.
But obviously that would take an eternity for us to do on our own, especially since we don’t travel full-time.
So we have the help of some amazing guest authors to help us out.
This week, we have the honor of hosting the Best Hikes in California by one of the most experienced hikers in her field, Riley from The Parks Expert.
Not only is does she have a knack for finding great hikes, she has a talent for describing them. Below is her contribution. Please enjoy!
The Best Hikes in California
Contributed by Riley from The Parks Expert
California has some of the most beautiful National Parks in the country. The hikes range from easy to difficult, so no matter your skill level there is a hike for you. I’ve listed my personal favorite hike in each California national park below. You’ll find descriptions, including why each is my favorite, and all the logistics you need to know to hike these epic trails.
1. Channel Islands National Park: Cavern Point Loop
Distance: 2 miles | Difficulty: Moderate
This is one of the best hikes in Channel Islands National Park for its diversity. You’ll cover two miles on this trail, so it’s longer than most other trails at the park. However, you get a bit of everything along this route making it worth your time.
Santa Cruz Island is the largest in Channel Islands National Park and hiking this trail is the best way to see it.
The coastal views you’ll be rewarded with are some of the best in the park. At certain times of the year, you may even see whales breaching in the distance.
It’s best to hike this trail clockwise to avoid a steep uphill climb. You’ll begin your journey from the campground, near site #22, and loop back to Scorpion Anchorage where the ferry docks.
If you want to extend your hike, you can tack on an additional 3 miles to include Potato Harbor. This is another beautiful coastal viewpoint.
2. Death Valley National Park: Zabriske Point to Golden Canyon Trail
Distance: 3.1 miles | Difficulty: Moderate
For many, a favorite hike in Death Valley National Park is the Zabriske Point to Golden Canyon Trail.
This is one of the best hikes in Death Valley because it offers so many different views and experiences along its length. You’ll start out at high elevation with panoramic vistas of the surrounding mountains before descending into a gorgeous narrow canyon.
The colors throughout the hike are spectacular. It’ll be impossible to count the different shades of yellow, orange, and red you see as you traverse the trail.
You can start from either Zabriske Point or Golden Canyon. Starting from Golden Canyon presents you with an ascent first, whereas starting from Zabriske Point is a descent.
You don’t need to complete the full trail for glimpses of the best colors. In fact, most hikers only complete a portion of the hike before returning to their starting point.
If you’re up for it, I recommend adding a 1-mile detour to the Red Cathedral to your trip.
If you want a longer hike, you can turn this into a nearly 8-mile loop by adding the Gower Gulch trail to your itinerary. This would become a much more strenuous hike if you did so, but you’d be rewarded.
3. Joshua Tree National Park: Lost Horse Mine
Distance: 4 miles | Difficulty: Moderate
This is one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree because it takes you through a wide variety of landscapes, including deep canyons and large boulders with unique features. You’ll be able to see all around you to take in the marvelous views.
My favorite part of this trail is the history you’ll encounter along the way. You’ll see a number of old mines and relics from when miners were in operation during World War I. It’s fascinating to walk through these structures that have been abandoned for so long but are still standing today.
This hike starts out with a gradual descent before leveling out. You’ll walk through an area that was once full of mining activity and along the way, you may even see some wildlife like bighorn sheep!
For a more challenging hike, you can also hike the Lost Horse Loop! This turns into a strenuous 6.5-mile adventure.
4. Kings Canyon National Park: Mist Falls Trail
Distance: 8 miles | Difficulty: Moderate
One of my all-time favorite trails in Kings Canyon is the Mist Falls Trail. You’ll follow the North and South Forks of the Kings River before reaching one of the largest waterfalls in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
The hike starts off flat until the last mile. Here, you’ll gain 600 feet during the most strenuous portion of the trip.
You may see plenty of wildlife along this trail, including deer and even bears! The birdwatching is spectacular as well.
5. Lassen Volcanic National Park: Bumpass Hell Trail
Distance: 3 miles | Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
NOTE: This trail is currently closed due to impacts from the Dixie Fire. Check the park’s official website for updates.
One of the best hikes in Lassen Volcanic National Park is Bumpass Hell. It’s one of the park’s most popular trails for good reason, as it brings you to bubbling mud pits and steaming fumaroles that will give you an incredible glimpse into what lies beneath this active volcanic landscape.
It’s almost like visiting Yellowstone in California!
The trail includes a gradual climb before descending 200 feet into the geothermal basin.
The best time to hike Bumpass Hell is in the morning when there’s more moisture in the air. This will help you see steam rising from the hot springs along with colorful minerals that are deposited on top of steaming rocks.
The trail is at a high elevation and closes with snow. Typically, it’s only open in the summer and fall, approximately June to October.
When the trail is closed, visitors can still admire hydrothermal activity at Sulphur Works, which is easily accessible, or hiking to Boiling Springs Lake, Devils Kitchen, or Terminal Geyser.
6. Redwood National & State Parks: Karl Knapp Trail
Distance: 2.5 miles | Difficulty: Easy
Previously known as the Prairie Creek Trail, one of the best hikes in Redwood National Park is Karl Knapp. This trail takes you through old-growth redwoods and offers a view from above where you can see treetops as far as your eyes can see!
This is a great alternative to the Tall Trees Grove, a longer and more strenuous hike that requires a permit.
This easy, flat trail is fully ADA accessible. In addition to the towering Redwoods you’ll see along your trip, you’ll also pass a babbling creek. Doesn’t it sound so idyllic?
The trail is a loop and we recommend walking clockwise. You’ll start near the Prairie Creek Visitor Center and follow signs for “Big Tree”.
7. Sequoia National Park: Congress Trail
Distance: 2 miles | Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
The Congress Trail is one of the most iconic hikes in Sequoia National Park. Along the way, you’ll encounter three of the five largest trees on the planet. That includes the General Sherman Tree, which is the largest living organism on Earth.
This trail gives you a little bit of everything and offers a bit of an escape from Sequoia’s crowds. While it’s still a popular trail, most people return to their car after photographing General Sherman.
The trail is mostly paved and relatively flat. It may be doable for hikers with strollers or individuals in wheelchairs depending on your ability to ascend a few small hills. Larger wheels may also help.
8. Yosemite National Park: Mist Trail to John Muir Trail Loop
Distance: 6 miles | Difficulty: Strenuous
Without a doubt, my favorite hike in Yosemite National Park is the Mist Trail-John Muir Trail Loop. Along the strenuous loop, you’re treated to amazing views of the granite rocks that shape Yosemite National Park as you trek to two waterfalls.
The first is Vernal Fall, famous for the mist it casts on hikers as they make their way up over 300 stairs to the top. For a shorter Mist Trail hike, you can connect to the John Muir Trail here and turn back.
If you continue, you’re also treated to Nevada Fall, another stunning cascade. This is where you’ll connect to the John Muir Trail to start your hike back down to Happy Isles where the trail begins. If you were to continue, you’d reach the base of Half Dome!
The best hikes in California’s national parks are a great way to explore the different landscapes that shape the Golden State. From epic views to small waterfalls, you’re sure to find a hike that’s perfect for your next outdoor adventure!
Riley has been traveling to national parks for as long as she can remember. After visiting over 200 national park sites across the country, she started The Parks Expert to help travelers plan their once-in-a-lifetime trips to national parks. Her expertise has helped thousands of people visit America’s great outdoors.
Read all about our day trip to Joshua Tree National Park before you go!
For more details on Yosemite, click here. This is the perfect itinerary for hiking and camping in Yosemite National Park.