Best Day Hikes in California: From Easiest to Hardest

Since I already tackled my favorite Southern California hikes I figured I should expand to the best day hikes in all of California. The criteria I used for selecting these hikes were as follows Does it provide something unique? Does it have a view that is hard to rival? Is it able to be accomplished in one 24 hour period for most people? After narrowing down all the backpacking trips and hikes that were just not “epic enough” I have come up with the below list, that I am sure will continue to expand. Make sure to tell me what I left off in the comments and I hope this show you some new hikes to explore. These hikes are compiled from easiest to hardest on my own personal scale.

Fern Canyon

fern canyon-32

The hardest thing about Fern Canyon is just getting there on the drive. Depending on the time of year you visit you may have to cross over a few small water crossings. When you get to the parking lot though the hike itself is short and utterly amazing. Every turn of the canyon holds better views than the last. Make sure it is on your list!

Read about it here

Whiskeytown Falls in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

Whiskeytown Falls 7

Located 45 minutes outside of Redding, this hike is a short 3 miles but it does have a lot of up and down, which makes you pay for the beautiful waterfall that rewards you at the end. I have seen a lot of waterfalls in California, but this is one of my favorites. Simply for the way the greens and browns bring out the beauty of the area. An amazing hike and a waterfall I could sit all day at.

Read about it here

Taft Point / Sentinal Dome

taft point-14

When visiting Yosemite, take the drive up to Glacier Point Road and hike either Taft Point or Sentinal Dome. Both are about 2 miles round trip each and they both have amazing views down into the valley.

Eagle Lake

Eagle Lake

The trail starts right across the street from one of my favorite state parks in California, Emerald Bay. It climbs well-worn rock stairs till you see Eagle Falls, then it continues to climb for the next mile and a half before you get to Eagle Lake. The west side of this lake has one of the best views I have ever seen. You can see it above and if that doesn’t make you want to go on this hike then nothing will.

Read more about it here

Elwodsen Trail in Big Sur

Ewoldsen Trail 12

At around 4 miles and 1500 feet of elevation, this trail starts out really easy as it meanders through the woods then ends with a climb up to a beautiful vista point of the Big Sur coastline. Honestly I could pick a ton of hikes in Big Sur but I feel this one gives a great picture of what Big Sur offers as a whole, waterfalls, forest and amazing views.

Read about it here

Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve

Kelso Dunes 11

This hike is not very long, only 3-4 miles round trip, but that does not mean it is easy. I almost gave up the first time I came out here since the hike itself is unforgiving as you walk through sand to make your way to the summit. That being said it is one of the best places in California to watch the sunset and one of the largest dunes in the entire state.

Read more about it here

Sierra Buttes in Nevada County

Sierra Buttes Fire Outlook 4

One of the more recent hikes I have done, the Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout is truly amazing. At 6 miles round trip and about 2000 feet of elevation, this is not an easy hike, but it is a rewarding one. Once you get to the crazy stairs that bring you up to the fire lookout and see the views you will be amazed it took you so long to put this hike on your list.

Read more about it here

The Mist Trail

Mist-Trail

While it is part of the Half Dome Trail I talk about later in this post, The Mist Trail is fantastic on its own. You can hike just to the top of Vernal Falls in 3 miles or you can go all the way to the top of Nevada Falls which I recommend in about 7 miles. It is one of those trails you will not forget.

Bridge to Nowhere in Azusa

Bridge to Nowhere

This ten-mile hike in Southern California crosses over streams, past raspberry bushes and over hills to reach a massive bridge that was built for a wiped out road. When you get all the way to the end you will also see that people bungee jump off of this bridge. It is an amazing hike to do in the summer (not during a drought) as there are many opportunities to cool off and swim in the water.

Read more about it here

Sandstone Peak in Malibu

Sandstone Peak 24

At right around 7 miles round trip the hike to Sandstone Peak is a rewarding one. This trail leaves the foothills and heads up into the Malibu mountains before it winds its way back down through foliage and past massive granite rocks. Along the way there are countless views of the ocean and coastline below as well.

Read more about it here

Mt Diablo in Mt Diablo St Park

Mt Diablo State Park 12

Of course you can drive up to the top of this mountain if you would like, but you can also hike it from the campground below in an 8 mile and 3,000 foot climb. Many people say this is one of the places in California where you can see the most land for a single view-point. There is debate about whether that is true, but I can tell you the views are fantastic.

Read more about it here

Lassen Peak in Lassen National Park

lassen-peak-from-lake-helen

One of my favorite summits in all of California, Lassen Peak is a 6 mile round trip slog up to the 10,000 foot summit. It is only about 2,000 feet of elevation gain, but due to the fact that it starts at 8,000 feet it can be a pretty slow going hike if you are not used to the elevation.

Read more about it here

Castle Dome in Castle Crags State Park

Castle Dome and Mt Shasta

Located near one of the most majestic peaks in California, Mt Shasta, Castle Crags State Park is a great place for a hike. At 6 miles round trip this hike goes up from the very beginning and is a leg workout the entire way. You will start in the forest, cross the PCT and then eventually end at the base of a massive granite dome. I would not attempt making it to the top of the dome without legit climbing gear though.

Read more about it here

North Fork of Big Pine

big-pine-north-fork-lakes-38

The directions for the post below are to backpack this trip since we went all the way to the Palisades Glacier, but you can just as easily hike to Second Lake and back in a day trip instead. The hike to Second Lake would be about 9-10 miles with 2,500 feet of elevation.

Read more about it here

Goat Canyon Trestle

Goat Trestle Quad-1

This hike takes you up and over two passes and down a steep, scrambling section of mountains to drop you at the largest wooden trestle in the world. I know it sounds like I am making that up, but this hike truly is epic in every sense of the word. It starts by offroading for 8 or so miles just to get to the trail head then it is a grueling 6 miles round trip that is void of any shade and in the harsh heat of the California desert. Getting to the trestle is an amazing reward, but make sure to remember that you have to make it all the way back out again too.

Read more about it here

Mt Baldy in San Bernardino County

Mt Baldy Night Hike 21

This hike can either be relatively easy or pretty difficult depending on which of the multiple routes you take to the summit. The route I am referring to in this post is the ski trail route and it is a grind fest to get to the top. At 8 miles round trip and about 5,000 feet of elevation it is one of the best hikes you can do to train in Southern California. Add to that a waterfall, old ski hut and amazing views and you will feel like you accomplished something when you reach the 10,000 foot peak.

Read more about it here

Telescope Peak outside of Death Valley

Telescope Peak 38

At 14 miles round trip and 3,000 feet of elevation, this hike is a long and rewarding day hike. As one of the mountains with the most prominence in all of California, you can see all the way down to the lowest point in the United States when you are at the summit. Add to that a really sketchy road just to get to the trail head and you have a recipe for an adventure.

Read more here

White Mountain in Inyo County

Image credit Last Adventurer

As the easiest 14,000 foot peak in California, White Mountain is pretty much a walk up and summit type peak. That makes it both attainable and an amazing training peak for bigger hikes. It is about 12 miles round trip and 2,500 feet of elevation gain, the shear height you are at is what is hardest to overcome. I haven’t done it yet but you can read about it on my friends site.

Last Adventurers post on White Mountain

Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

Half Dome Hike 47

One of the most iconic California mountains, Half Dome is known by people all over the world. This hike is not even remotely easy though at about 15 miles and 5,000 feet, especially to do it in only a day. The craziest part of the hike is after 7 miles you get to the base of the dome and then you have to pull yourself up the cables in order to reach the summit. It is nuts but an amazing feeling of accomplishment when you complete it.

Read about it here

Mt Whitney in Inyo National Forest

View from Mt Whitney Summit

The iconic California summit of Mt Whitney attracts people from all over the world, especially since it is the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. It is a push to do in a day but people do it during the entire summer when the hiking permits are available and it is around 21 miles and 6,000 feet of elevation gain, so it is no small feat.

Read more about it here

So now is your turn to chime in and let me know what you think I left off. What are your favorite day hikes in California?

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  • Great posting, nice picture and amazing blog about adventure thank for sharing

  • Sarah Butler

    Mission Peak in Fremont Ca is super popular and offers sweeping views of the entire bay area valley! Perfect day hike for the novice and newbies. Check it out!!

    • Thanks for the suggestion that sounds fantastic!

    • Mike Meagher

      Unless you start from Sunol, Mission Peak is a joke!

  • RT Johnson

    Great list. A little light on Coast Range hikes, though, especially in Northern California. So might I suggest the Miner’s Ridge – James Irvine Loop, through the old growth redwood forests of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. In addition to the primeval beauty of the forest itself, the hike features a wander along an isolated North Coast beach and a traverse of Fern Canyon, which had 30+ ft sheer walls covered in ferns. Oh, and did I mention there’s elk?

    Other great Coast Range hikes include the Matt Davis – Steep Ravine Loop in Mt. Tamalpais State Park, hiking to the summit of Mt. Tam from Muir Woods, any number of hikes in Point Reyes National Seashore, and the Berry Creek Falls Loop in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

    • Thanks for the suggestion! I have done Fern Canyon, but not from that direction, sounds epic!

  • Gina

    Mt. Tallac. Tahoe. A few lakes in the way up. Amazing views of Lake Tahoe and Emmigrant Wilderness. Pt. Reyes is also another wonderful place to hike.

    • I have been wanting to do Mt Tallac but haven’t gotten there yet. What’s your favorite spot to hike in Point Reyes?

      • RT Johnson

        I’ll chime in here. The tricky thing about Point Reyes is that there’s so many possible hikes you can do, many of them equally good. This means that there’s no single iconic hike like Half Dome that everyone’s heard of. Alamere Falls (along the Coast Trail, from the Palomarin Trailhead) is often held up as a favorite. The Tomales Point Trail also gets a lot of press for its wildflowers and Tule elk. And of course, there’s the Point Reyes Lighthouse, which is more of a walk with a big staircase than a hike.

        Personally, I’d recommend any of the number of the loops that starts on the Olema Valley side of park (at locations such as the Five Brooks or Bear Valley trailheads), heads over to the coast, and then makes its way back to the trailhead by a different route. This allows you to see many of Pt. Reyes’ best assets: lush Douglas Fir forest, coastal bluffs with wildflowers, and hidden beaches. These loops do tend to be on the strenuous side, though, typically ranging from 12-20 mi and 1000′-2000+’ elevation gain. The Bear Valley-Mt. Wittenberg-Sky-Woodward Valley-Coast-Bear Valley loop would be one good example.

        • Thank you for this comment it is full of great information!

          • RT Johnson

            No problem. I’m a big fan of Point Reyes. 🙂 And thanks for your post! Several hikes there I might not have heard of otherwise.

          • No problem, I haven’t spent much time in Point Reyes but I am hoping to soon! Glad the post was helpful, how did you hear about it?

  • K Mcelroy

    Feather falls hike in Oroville. 10mile hike

    • Thanks for the suggestion I will have to check it out!

  • Perry Way

    Next time you’re in Big Sur area I can take you on some bushwhacks that will blow your mind. Best views. You an almost see China.

    • Sounds good to me!

  • Rose Brace

    One of my favorites is Twin Lakes near Shaver Lake. It’s not a long hike at about 4 1/2 miles, but the views are spectacular. Another great thing about this trail is that dogs are allowed. Have fun with your canine friend!

    • Thanks for the suggestion, sounds awesome!

  • sandydeb

    How about to the top of Yosemite Falls? It’s a 7 mile round trip hike and a 2,700 foot elevation gain. 6-8 hours.

    • Ya that is a really good recommendation!

  • Heather

    Iron mountain and potato chip in San Diego are fun, and I hike Torrey Pines almost every day. Torrey Pines is pretty easy and accessible, but it’s also stunningly beautiful 🙂

    • I agree, Torrey Pines is one of the most beautiful coastal hikes in California! I may need to add that to the list

  • Don Littlefield

    Matt Davis Trail in Mount Tamalpais, beginning above at the ranger station following varied forested and ocean views, with cascading creeks down to Stinson Beach for lunch and back to the ranger station for a wonderful, moderate, spectacular day hike.

    • Thanks for the suggestion, that sounds awesome!

  • Josiah DiNatale

    I would reccommend Clouds Rest in Yosemite over Half Dome. It is more strenuous, with a 22 mile round trip, as well as an extra 1000+ feet of elevation gain, but the benifit is you spend more time is the trees, seeing better denser forest past the split to Half Dome, and the view from the top is much better than Half Dome. You are higher, so you not only see the valley, but also Half Dome itself, as well as much of the high back country of Yosemite.

    • This is an awesome suggestion, it is on my list to hike this year for sure.

  • Tony

    I reccomend checking out three sisters falls over near san diego and the painted canyons in the coachella valley. Both are beautiful hikes with their own unique challenges.

    • Thanks for the suggestions, I haven’t done either!

  • Greg

    No Mist Trail?

    • That is great suggestion!

      • Greg

        Cool, I see you added it! Thanks for sharing your adventures!

        • Yea, thank you for suggesting it I appreciate it!