16 Best Hiking Trails in California

Sunny California has been a hot vacation destination for decades. The beaches, national forests, and laid-back attitude have always attracted visitors. 

However, weekend warriors are drawn to this wonderful state for the opportunity to surf, camp, and, most importantly, hike. There are countless trails throughout Joshua Tree National Park, Sequoia National Park, and the vast array of other California landmarks, and each of them offers a unique view and experience. 

Whether you want to hike near the water for panoramic ocean views or in the forested areas of Northern California to feel small next to massive redwood forests, there is something for everyone. Additionally, when traveling in your adventure van, you can hit a variety of trails within one trip!

If you are looking for the ultimate guide to California trails, with a range of difficulty and attractions, we have the guide for you. Additionally, we have listed our favorite RV parks near each trail, giving you a place to park your adventure van and rest up for the next day of hiking. 

Upper Yosemite Falls Trail

If you find yourself in the Yosemite Valley area, definitely check out this amazing (but challenging) hike in Yosemite National Park. It’s a 7.6 mi out-and-back style trail that reaches over 3,000 ft in elevation gain — not an easy hike. The peak time for this site is April through October, and unfortunately, no dogs are allowed.

If you make it to the top of this trail, you’ll be in the presence of the tallest waterfall in the continental US! Not only that, but you’ll have breathtaking panoramic views of Yosemite Valley. You’ll also come across some famous rock-climbing walls that are inhabited by eagles.

Under an hour away, you’ll find Yosemite Lakes RV Resort, a great place to keep your adventure van for a night or two. It’s nestled right in the woods and offers 254 full hook-up sites, 130 tent sites, bathrooms, showers, and laundry. 

The Badger Pass Ski Area nearby is great for family skiing/snowboarding, and you can also check out the famous grove of giant old-growth sequoias in Mariposa.

Sprinter vans at Yosemite

Eaton Canyon Trail

This moderately difficult out-and-back is located right outside of Pasadena, California, in Eaton Canyon Natural Area Park. It’s substantially less intense than Yosemite Falls, coming in at only 4.4 mi with an elevation gain of 521 ft. It’s a wonderful place to visit year-round, but expect to encounter quite a few people — it’s a very popular area for runners and hikers.

On this trail, you’ll arrive at a 40-foot waterfall with gorgeous views of both the San Gabriel and Santa Monica Mountains. If you happen to go in the springtime, the canyon floor will be covered in a beautiful assortment of wildflowers.

Near Pasadena in San Dimas, California, there’s a good spot to camp out after a day on the trail. The Bonelli Bluffs RV Resort offers spacious lots with full hook-ups available. The 2,000-acre property has a swimming pool and pet-friendly trails to explore! The best part: you’re only a 30-minute drive away from all that Los Angeles has to offer.

Lower Yosemite Falls Trail

This is a really short but sweet loop trail. It comes in at just over a mile and takes a half hour to finish, gaining 60 ft of elevation in the process. It’s another year-round site where you will likely share the trail with many walkers. Dogs are allowed if they are on a leash.

The main highlight of this trail is the view of the tallest waterfall in North America towering over you as the water crashes on the rocks below. You’ll also catch some stunning glimpses of Middle Cascade. It’s worth noting, however, that the waterfall can become dry in late summer/fall — springtime is when the water gets flowing.

As mentioned in the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail entry on this list, Yosemite Lakes RV Resort is probably your best bet if you’re looking for a good place to camp out in the area. 

Cowles Mountain Trail

Just outside of La Mesa, California, you’ll find Cowles Mountain Trail inside Mission Trail Regional Park. This out-and-back style trail is three miles long and gains nearly 1,000 ft of elevation. It’s considered to be moderately challenging and a good spot to visit year-round.

You’ll be surrounded by great views the whole way up to the summit. If you happen to tackle this trail on a clear day, then you’ll really be rewarded once you reach the top — 360-degree panoramic views of San Diego, North County, Orange County, and Mexico.

Head to San Diego RV Resort afterward if you’re looking for a nearby camp-out spot. It holds 172 fully loaded hook-up sites, each with Wi-Fi, laundry facility access, and restrooms. This site is not too far from the world-famous San Diego Zoo — check it out if you’re looking for something fun to do.

Solstice Canyon Loop

For beautiful views of the ocean and lush rolling hills, head to Solstice Canyon Loop. This hike stretches over a three-mile loop and is extremely picturesque. Even though you should still slather on sunscreen, this hike is mostly shaded, so you shouldn’t be too worried about hiking here on a sunny day. 

You are guaranteed to be surprised at every turn on this hike, with some of the highlights including the oldest still-standing stone building in Malibu, a waterfall, ruins, ocean views, hidden statues, and more. There will be plenty of spots to splash fresh water on your face and sit to enjoy the remarkable views. Leashed dogs are welcome there, and when there’s enough rainfall, you might spot a few doggy paddling in pools at the base of the waterfall

For an overnight spot with a view, head to Malibu Beach RV Park for the night. You can choose from 142 RV sites, each with a full hook-up and ocean or mountain view. Additionally, you can take advantage of their laundry facilities, convenience store, bathrooms with heated showers, dump station, Wi-Fi, cable access, picnic tables, and propane services. 

Iron Mountain Trail

A moderately challenging 5.9-mile out-and-back hike, the Iron Mountain Trail is one of San Diego’s most popular spots for hikers. The views are unmatched, giving you a chance to look out over Northern San Diego County, as well as Mt. Woodson and the Catalina Islands. There isn’t any shade on this hike, so stock up on sunscreen, water, and protective clothing. 

The steep sections of this hike are pretty rocky, so make sure your hiking shoes have good traction!

After completing the hike and taking in the views, drive your van over to Oak Bottom Marina RV and Campground. Although this camp does not have electrical hook-ups, you will have access to a nearby lake that’s perfect for boating and swimming. After you settle in, take advantage of their bathrooms with showers, campfire sites, picnic tables, and a market. 

Lastly, San Diego can get pretty hot in the summertime, so install a portable air cooler in your camper van beforehand. This way, you won’t ever have to worry about overheating or running your van for too long. 

Vernal Falls

This four-mile out-and-back trail located near Yosemite Valley is considered to be pretty challenging but well worth the effort. The hike is a steep climb almost the entire way, with a steep paved path at the beginning and steep rock stairs at the end. 

However, the middle of the hike offers beautiful views across the park, and the end of the hike gives you unparalleled views of the top of the falls themselves. There aren’t many waterfalls in Yosemite, so this trail is a must-do if you are in the area. 

The rock stairs at the end of the hike can be a little slippery from the mist from the falls, so come prepared with proper hiking shoes and pay close attention when you are climbing. 

After successfully making the journey up to the falls, come back down and drive over to Bass Lake at Yosemite RV resort for the night. Not only does this park have 178 full hook-up RV sites, but it also has an on-site swimming pool, game room, playground, adult’s lounge, cafe, and more. 

Between the trails and sights in Yosemite and the amenities and attractions at the RV camp, you will have everything you need for a comfortable, fun-filled vacation. 

Sprinter Van in Yosemite

Lands End Trail

On the northern end of the state, the Lands End Trail is a 3.4-mile trail located near San Francisco. This trail is an excellent choice for a day hike if you want to pack in as many classic San Francisco sights as possible. It’s moderately challenging, with a few sets of stairs along the way. 

However, you will be rewarded with gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge throughout your journey. Locals and tourists alike consider this to be one of the most beautiful trails the Bay Area has to offer. 

This trailhead parking lot is also conveniently located near plenty of San Francisco attractions, like Mile Rock Beach, Fort Miley, the Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum, and the USS San Francisco Memorial.

Once you are done hiking and sightseeing, drive over to Candlestick RV Park. Although you should make a reservation ahead of time, you shouldn’t have a problem snagging one of the 165 full-hook-up sites for the night. You can rinse off in their showers, do your laundry, and stock up on essentials at their grocery store while you are here. 

Plus, this campground is only two miles from the AT&T Stadium if you’re in the mood to see the San Francisco Giants play. 

Temescal Canyon Trail

Located near the Pacific Palisades, this 3.8-mile loop trail can give you the best of both worlds, offering incredible ocean and canyon views. Starting in LA county and ending in Topanga State Park, this trail is easily accessible from the city. 

During your hike, you will pass views of Malibu, the Santa Monica Mountains, and gorgeous California flora. Your hike will even see a rushing waterfall, which makes for the perfect backdrop for your mid-hike rest. 

On a particularly clear day, you might even be able to see all the way from the San Gabriel Mountains to Catalina. 

Once you are ready to pack it up for the night, head to Glen Ivy RV Resort. With mountain views and over 300 sites, this park will feel like a breath of fresh air. This park has almost everything you could ask for, with full hook-up sites, showers, laundry, a dump station, restrooms, picnic areas, basketball courts, swimming pools, and more. It even has a library!

Mount Whitney Trail — Sierra Nevada Mountain Range

For the hiking enthusiasts who want anything but an easy hike, try to tackle this 20.9 miles round trip hike near Lone Pine. Walking along this trail will leave you with no shortage of rocky switchbacks, sheer cliffs, and flowing waterfalls before reaching the summit of Mt. Whitney. There are two designated campsites along the way, as well as three impressive lakes. 

Once you reach the summit, you will want to stay awhile. The unforgettable views stretch as far as the eye can see, and the high altitudes will make you feel on top of the world. 

After a successful hiking and camping trip, drive your adventure van over to Lone Pine Campground. The 40 campsites at this park offer picnic tables, fire rings, and food storage lockers. The best part of this campground is its close proximity to Mount Whitney Trail, so you can find immediate refuge after your high-effort hike. 

Point Lobos Loop Trail

Rated as moderate in difficulty, the Point Lobos Loop Trail is a moderate hike stretching 6.7 miles near Carmel-by-the-Sea. A gorgeous hike along the coastline, you can enjoy views of local flora, lush Monterey pine and Cypress groves, the ocean, and more. If you keep a watchful eye, you might even be able to spot sea lions, shorebirds, and a variety of ocean wildlife. 

This is an extremely popular and frequently used trail, so you can expect it to be well-kept and maintained. 

After soaking in the beautiful views, head over to Carmel By the River RV Park. This popular park has been operating for more than 40 years and is known for its quiet and picturesque location, nestled into the lush foliage. All of their RV sites include water, sewer, electricity, Wi-Fi, and cable utilities. 

Relax at their picnic tables and cook dinner on their charcoal grills. Perhaps best of all, you can always spend a restful afternoon playing air hockey, billiards, and ping pong on-site.

Lastly, visit the world-famous Carmel Beach. Off-leash (well-mannered) dogs run up and down the white sand and join their humans near an on-beach fire at sunset. Local restaurants include Tommy’s Wok, Carmel Burger Bar, and Rise + Roam. 

Big Sur in a Sprinter Van

Runyon Canyon Trail

One of the most popular trails in Southern California, the Runyon Canyon Trail, will give you movie-worthy views. 

Though short, the terrain can be pretty demanding, but this hike should still be doable for most hikers. After completing this hike, you will have had the chance to admire views of Hollywood Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains. In fact, many people embark on this hike just to see the iconic Hollywood Sign.

This is a must-do hike if you are traveling with your dog. There are plenty of off-leash areas, and the hike itself should be no problem for your furry friend.  

To stay close to this iconic American landmark, drive over to the Hollywood RV Park for the night. This park offers full hook-ups, Wi-Fi, and an on-site gym. You can even enjoy a musical performance or comedy show at the nearby Hollywood Playhouse for a post-hike treat.

Mount Tallac Trail

For a challenging hike with exceptional mountain and water-side views, head to Mount Tallac Trail. This is no easy trail — it’s 10.5 miles long and will take you up Mount Tallac and back. One of the most popular hikes in the Tahoe area, you are guaranteed to have the most impressive views of Lake Tahoe

On your wait up Mount Tallac, you will pass alpine lakes, forested areas, Emerald Bay, and more. There are also plenty of rest points along the way, giving you a chance to rest your legs and soak in the views. 

After admiring Lake Tahoe and maybe even jumping in the water, head over to Fallen Leaf Campground. Located next to Fallen Leaf Lake, this campsite is surrounded by pine, fir, cedar, and aspen trees. There are over 200 sites at this campground, and they offer picnic tables, food lockers, grills, fire rings, a dump station, and showers. 

Be sure to pack a few camping chairs to bring to the shore of the lake. 

Torrey Pines Beach Trail Loop

An easy 2.3-mile loop, hiking the Torrey Pines Beach Trail Loop is the perfect way to spend an afternoon. You will walk along small hills for the first half and down to the beach for the final mile of the loop. You might want to keep your best hiking shoes in your van’s storage cubby since the sand and water might do some damage to your shoes. 

If you can plan ahead, try to time your hike with the sunset. Walking the last mile along the beach as the sun sets over the water is an unforgettable experience. 

After a beautiful sunset hike, drive over to Surf & Turf RV Park for a peaceful night of rest and relaxation. Located just blocks from the beach, you can fall asleep to the peaceful sounds of the waves crashing on the sand and start your day with a dip in the ocean. Each site includes 30 amp electricity and water connections, but there aren’t any extra amenities. 

Cataract Falls Trail

Located near Stinson Beach, this 2.8-mile out-and-back trail is one of the most popular hikes within the greater San Francisco area. 

You won’t risk boredom while walking along this trail; cascading waterfalls are scattered across the entirety of the trail. You will pass under the shade of forested areas as you follow a rushing creek for most of the hike and even come across a naturally forming freshwater pool. 

If you hike along this trail after a rainfall, you will see the rushing creeks and waterfalls at their most powerful. 

After a day of hiking, it’ll be time to check into Pelican Point RV Park for the night. Each site comes loaded with cable TV, water, sewer, and electricity. Wi-Fi and propane are available at a price, but the showers, restrooms, and dog park are all accessible for free. You can also use their coin-operated laundry room and rent a fire pit and BBQ grill for a tasty on-site meal. 

Tomales Point Trail

Although the Tomales Point Trail is long, the terrain of this 9.4-mile out-and-back hike isn’t too difficult, making it accessible for plenty of hikers. While you walk along the trail, you will be able to cross plenty of “must-see” sights on your California bucket list, including Tomales Bay, Bodega Bay, and the Pacific Ocean. This trail will take you to the end of the Point Reyes Peninsula and to a wonderful lookout point. 

Wear long sleeves and long pants on this hike, as the last stretch is commonly overgrown with bushes and shrubs. Additionally, try to hit this hike on a day with low to moderate winds; high winds can make this hike much more difficult. 

For a comfortable and nearby stay, head to Bodega Bay RV Park after your hike. This park has had the same owners since 1967 and is well-loved by the community. Your stay here will give you access to one of 71 sites, 55 of them with full hook-ups, restrooms, hot showers, laundry facilities, clubhouses, cable TV, a bocce ball court, a restaurant, a putting green, and more.

The Best Hikes on the Pacific Coast

Among the many attractions in California, hiking and backpacking are the main draws for many travelers to Big Sur, Fern Canyon, and beyond. Especially if you love outdoor activities and exploring nature in different parts of the country, you are going to love a California road trip.

No matter which hike you choose to complete, you will be met with breathtaking vistas and a great workout. 

Be sure to take a deep breath of the fresh air and express some gratitude for the beauty and adventure California’s coast trails have to offer. 

Sources:

Sun Safety | Skin Cancer | CDC

Home | The Hollywood Sign

Sea Lions | Species | WWF

Redwood National and State Parks | U.S. National Park Service

Solstice Canyon | U.S. National Park Service

Carmel Beach | Visit California

 


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.