The Most Epic Hikes to Take in Northern California

The hike up to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park comes with breathtaking views
The hike up to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park comes with breathtaking views | © imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Courtney Holcomb
2 September 2021

Northern California is known for its magnificent mountains, gorgeous redwood forests and oasis-like lakes and rivers. If you’re looking for a memorable hike in the area, here are our favorite spots to hit the trail.

You can enjoy several outstanding hikes on Culture Trip’s seven-day small-group Northern California adventure, including Tuolumne Grove and Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park.

Marin Headlands

Hiking Trail
Map View
USA, California, San Francisco Bay Area, Marin Headlands, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Muir Beach Overlook
USA, California, San Francisco Bay Area, Marin Headlands, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Muir Beach Overlook | © mauritius images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Hiking up through the Marin Headlands offers gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Pacific Coast and the rest of the Bay Area. The Marin Headlands Trail is a moderately popular 10mi (16km) loop near Mill Valley. This hike will take you through an assortment of colorful wildflowers blooming in the spring, and in the fall keep an eye out for hawks during the raptor migration. The trails are considered difficult, so come prepared; you can expect a number of activities available on the trail as well.

Stout Grove

Forest, Hiking Trail
Map View
Stout Grove is a densely-packed redwood grove located in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. This majestic 44-acre (17.8ha) grove is considered the most scenic redwood forest in the world. It is filled with towering trees, many of which reach up to 300ft (91m) high — and it is a sight to be seen. There is a half-mile (0.8km) paved loop trail, mostly easy and flat, that will take you through the grove. The trailhead begins on the east side of Howland Hill Road and follows along the winding Smith River. The trail is off the beaten path from most tourist routes and is quiet and serene.

Half Dome, Yosemite

Hiking Trail
Map View
One of the most iconic hikes in the state is the hike up to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. This trail is adventurous and arduous for most, leading up to 8,800ft (2,683m) above sea level. The hike is 16mi (26km) round trip, reaching a peak with sweeping views of Vernal and Nevada Falls, the Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra. The hike typically takes ten to 12 hours, with a set of cables to help hikers get through the last stretch. It is recommended that hikers come well prepared since the trail can be quite dangerous.

Desolation Wilderness

Hiking Trail
Map View
A gnarled tree stump stands on the edge of a mountain lake in the Desolation Wilderness of eastern California.
A gnarled tree stump stands on the edge of a mountain lake in the Desolation Wilderness of eastern California. | © Ethan Daniels / Alamy Stock Photo
Desolation Wilderness is an area of Lake Tahoe in California and is often considered the most beautiful section, featuring plenty of hiking trails and gorgeous panoramic views of the lake and the mountains. Take a hike up to Dicks Peak, a tall mountain right in the middle of the wilderness. The standard route begins at Emerald Bay, following either the Eagle Falls Trail or the Granite Lake/Maggies Peaks Trail. The two trails meet after several miles at the Pacific Crest Trail, leading to Dicks Pass, which takes hikers to the peak.

Lassen Peak

Park, Hiking Trail
Map View
Sunset at Lassen Peak with reflection on Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Sunset at Lassen Peak with reflection on Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California | © Engel Ching / Alamy Stock Photo
Lassen Peak was once the southernmost active volcano in the Cascade Range, last erupting in 1915. There is a trail leading from the parking area up 2.5mi (4km) one way to the summit. The trail offers sweeping views of the park and the surrounding areas, including the spaces devastated in the last eruption, reaching as far as 200mi (322km) to the east. The volcano is dormant but still considered active, and the trail is steep and rocky so hiking boots are recommended. Expect a round trip hike to take around three to five hours.

Siskiyou Wilderness

Forest, Hiking Trail
Map View
Siskiyou Wilderness is located in parts of Del Norte, Humboldt and Siskiyou counties, filled with forest-covered mountains, valleys and grasslands. There are three National Forests within the wilderness, including Six Rivers, Klamath and Siskiyou. The wilderness is moderately popular, with concentration on the major trails and mountain lakes. Hiking through the wilderness will take you through steep canyons, dense greenery and incredible views. Hikes available include everything from half day hikes to week long backpacking trips, upon some of which you will find complete solitude.

Point Reyes

Natural Feature, Hiking Trail
Map View
The lighthouse at Point Reyes National Seashore in California.
The lighthouse at Point Reyes National Seashore in California. | © Niels van Kampenhout / Alamy Stock Photo
Not far north of San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore has around 150mi (241km) of hiking trails for visitors to enjoy. Grab a trail map at the Bear Valley Visitor Center and customize a hike to suit your needs. You can make your way through the rocky headlands, sandy beaches, open grasslands, sweeping hills and forested cliffs, or take a walk down to the iconic Point Reyes Lighthouse. There are over 1,500 species of plants and animals to look out for along your trip, too — so keep your eyes open!
These recommendations were updated on September 2, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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