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11 Most Challenging Hiking Trails to Trek in NorCal
Health & Fitness

11 Most Challenging Hiking Trails to Trek in NorCal

Hiking in California lovers unite! We have compiled a list of the most challenging hiking trails in NorCal for the adventurous and strong he

Natasha Kouyoumjian


5 min read

April 20, 2023

If you’re looking to go hiking in California but don't know where to start, then you’ve landed on the right page! It's not often we find exactly what we’re looking for, but undoubtedly, your quest and title have finally aligned. We’ve put together a list of Southern California’s most strenuous and challenging trails, to help you gear up and experience an elevated performance. So without further ado, let’s break down nine places that offer the most challenging, yet best hikes in northern California.

1. Brokeoff Mountain, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Venturing to unprecedented grounds is what life is all about.
  • Location: Mount Tehama
  • Hours: 4 hours
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Distance: 7.6-mile
  • Elevation: 9,239 feet
  • Route: Mill Creek
  • Pets: Not Allowed

A snow blanket covers the peak of this majestic formation. Leave behind the midsummer humidity and step out of your comfort zone onto one of the best summer hiking trails in California. Soak up the fresh oxygen and get your blood pumping with a thrilling experience of this challenging trail trek. Besides the best hiking in northern California, this volcanic arena trail offers many fun activities including bird watching and camping by the lake. No pups allowed folks, so leave your pets at home.

2. Mount Shasta, Sisikiyou County Ca

High risks take you to high places.
  • Location: Siskiyou County, CA 
  • Hours: 9 hours
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Distance: 12 miles
  • Elevation: 3,600 feet
  • Route: Avalanche Gulch

If you haven’t heard of Mount Shasta, you’re in luck! Popular amongst hikers, this trail is marked as one of the most thrilling expeditions of California hiking trails. As numerous others are arriving at this divinity, the Avalanche Gulf route is the most unnerving one yet! So make sure to do your research and gear up properly while getting ready for hiking Mount Shasta.

3. Half Dome, Little Yosemite Valley Campsite

A little break on the Little Yosemite Valley Campsite.
  • Location: Yosemite Valley
  • Hours: 5 hours
  • Difficulty: Extreme
  • Distance: 6.7 miles
  • Elevation: 2,700 feet
  • Permits: You must have a permit to climb the mountain
  • Pets: Not Allowed

Rock climbing, backpacking, camping, and more daredevil activities await while you’re hiking on this daunting trail trek. Who would’ve thought that such a gentle-sounding name would be home to the most strenuous trails to go hiking in California? Considering this is an extremely hard trail to hike, apply for your permission beforehand to ensure your safe passage. This trail allows no pets, so leave your pooches at home. Make sure to bring your camera if you’re a photography buff.

4. Mount Tallac Trail

Embrace the enchanted forests while you journey your way through the sunset.


  • Location: South Lake Tahoe, CA
  • Hours: 6 hours
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Distance: 10.5 miles
  • Elevation: 3,275 feet
  • Permits: None
  • Pets: Allowed on leash

The Mount Tallac trail stretches all through the south of Lake Tahoe and is considered one of the most challenging California hiking trails. Enjoy your hike while you smell the wildflowers, witness the wildlife and meet snowshoers on the way! Bring a light jacket and your pet, but don’t forget their leash.

5. La Jolla Valley, Chumash Trail

Sun, sea, and a forest. What more could you ask for?
  • Location: Camarillo, California
  • Hours: 3.5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 7 miles round-trip
  • Elevation: 1,470 feet
  • Pets: Allowed

Dying to experience the Mediterranean feel while hiking in California? Look no further. With a view overlooking the sea, long stretches, and the slow-dancing wildflowers, this trail trek automatically ranks as one of the best day hikes in California. Meet fellow hikers on the way and enjoy the serenity at quieter hours. Don’t forget to bring a hat and sunscreen to shield yourself from the sunny weather.

6. Skyline Park Perimeter Loop

A day well-spent in California is guaranteed at the skyline park perimeter loop.
  • Location: Napa, California
  • Hours: 5 hours
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Distance: 9 miles
  • Elevation: 2,275 feet
  • Pets: Not allowed.

If you’re aiming for the best hikes in California, this one takes the cake. Explore this perimeter loop in a five-hour-long round trip and meet professional mountain bikers on the way. Have yourself equipped for when wildlife comes to pay a visit. Make sure your phones are fully charged to snap the most Instagram-ready settings in Napa.

7. Stout Grove Trail To Jinnah Grove Loop

Scream where only the universe can hear you!
  • Location: Los Padres National Forest
  • Hours: 2 hours 43 minutes
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 2.78 miles
  • Elevation: 1,275 feet
  • Pets: Not allowed

With its red soil and evergreen forest, this trail is a great way to get introduced to the Los Padres National Forest. A 2.78-mile loop trail near Atascadero is available year-round if you’re up to witness one of the best hikes in northern California. Embrace the lively attitude of this enchanted forest through camping, hiking, and witnessing the majestic altitude of the trees. Remember to bring a light jacket, to avoid getting chilly under the green shades, and leave your pooches at home.

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8. Miwok Trail and Hardy Canyon Loop Trail

  • Location: Round Valle regional preserve
  • Hours: 2hours 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 5 miles
  • Elevation: 1,035 feet
  • Pets: Not allowed

If you’re ever thinking of going hiking in northern California, start by this route! The moderately-challenging circuit is a five-mile loop. Though it's accessible year-round, the best time to visit is in spring. If you’re a fan of wildlife, get ready to witness squirrels and other woodland creatures snooping around. Be sure to put on your khaki pants to dodge the wildflowers pulling at your pants.

9. Mount Muir via the Mount Whitney Trail

The best way to Mount Muir is to have Mount Whitney on your side.
  • Location: Lone Pine, California
  • Hours: 10 hours
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Distance: 14.4 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 5,895 feet
  • Pets: Not allowed

Thinking of going backpacking or a good hike? You’ll find that this route marks the best hikes in California. Exploring this unnerving trail, you’ll find traces of snow and witness sceneries and wildlife. If you have a bucket list for Mountain hikes in Cali, begin by ticking this one-off.

10. Tahoe Rim Trail To Picnic Rock

Exploring Tahoe Rim Trail, you find serenity and peace.
  • Location: Kings Beach, California
  • Hours: 1 hour 40 minutes
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 3.1 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 740 feet
  • Pets: Dogs Allowed on Leash

Hiking in California can be overwhelming. There are only too many good places to choose from, and this trail doesn’t make it easier on hikers. This moderately challenging route is a short hike of 1hrs 40 min, making it great for a family field trip. Have your camera ready to get a good shot of the famous Lake Tahoe. Being open year-round, Tahoe Rim Trail offers diverse activities like mountain biking and snowshoeing. Dogs are allowed on this trail, but make sure they’re on a leash.

11. Pacific Crest Trail

Scout the Pacific Crest’s green trail with your pals for a summer-long journey across the West Coast.
  • Location: Campo, California
  • Hours: 3-5 Months
  • Difficulty: Extreme
  • Distance: 2,650 miles
  • Elevation: 131,013 m

Running out of challenging trails to get the best hiking in California? If you have some time off – say around 3 months – we have just the thing. A mega-challenge for the biggest adventure-seekers out there. If you’re ready to explore more things than Marco Polo himself, get packing to discover the beauty of the continent of California and beyond. This trail is the golden wilderness you’ve been seeking. Exquisite waterfalls, lakes, and hot springs are completely worth exploring while on this once-in-a-lifetime experience. The trail is also meant for camping, so you’ll be happy to encounter many people on your way.

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