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Beginner Hikes to Trek in California if You're Just Getting Started
Health & Fitness

Beginner Hikes to Trek in California if You're Just Getting Started

Take your pick from one of these beginner hiking trails in California and get out there—a whole world of untapped adventures await you.

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5 min read

August 27, 2021

Not all hikes need to be exhausting adventures to the top of Mount Shasta. In fact, before you trek longer, more difficult trails, it’s best to try out lots of short, not-too-difficult beginner hikes to build your fitness, skills, and confidence. After all, your introduction to the hiking world should be fun, not frightening.

Read on for a surge of motivation, take your pick from one of these beginner hiking trails in California, and get out there—a whole world of untapped adventures await you.

Beginner Hiking Trails In Northern California

Transported by your feet and carrying what you need for the day, you can discover the beauty of nature at whatever pace you’re comfortable with.

1. Twin Peaks Trail

Location: 501 Twin Peaks Boulevard, San Francisco

Level of difficulty: Easy

Distance: 2.1 miles

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: On leash

Twin Peaks features a super easy hiking trail that’s also one of the best in San Francisco with panoramic city views. We recommend hiking this beautiful paved trail during sunset for an extra enchanting experience. But fair warning, this trail is very popular—you’ll be sharing it with other hikers, bikers, and drivers the entirety of the way up.

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One of the wonderful things about hiking is that you don’t need a bunch of high-tech gear to get out there.

2. Fern Canyon Loop Trail

Location: Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Orick

Level of difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.1 miles

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: Yes

Once you set your eyes on this gorgeous hiking trail for beginners, you’ll understand why it was chosen as the filming location for The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Tucked away in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Fern Canyon takes you back to prehistoric times through a series of lush green footbridges. If you want to trek this beginner hike with relatively lesser crowds, consider going at sunrise—the subtle sunshine at dawn makes the experience a whole lot more magical.

3. Western States Trail to Calcutta Falls

Location: Auburn State Recreation Area, Auburn

Level of difficulty: Easy

Distance: 2.2 miles

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: Yes

Want to take a walk through history? We have just the hike for you near Sacramento. As one of the best hiking trails for beginners, the Western States Trail to Calcutta Falls takes you through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which were first traveled by the Indigenous peoples of the region. And, besides historical significance, this easy hike is also rich in the natural beauty department. You’ll see magnificent peaks, rugged wilderness, and a beautiful creek along the way. 

Easy Hikes To Go On In Central California

As a beginner hiker, it's tough to know how much food and water you need. A basic recommendation for how much to eat is 200 to 300 calories per hour.

4. Overlook Trail to McWay Falls

Location: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur 

Level of difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.1 miles

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: No

There are only two tide falls in California—Alamere Falls and McWay Falls. You have the opportunity to view the latter by trekking a short hike in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Very popular and often heavily trafficked, the Overlook Trail to McWay Falls is definitely one of the very best in Monterey. Add this gorgeous waterfall to your Big Sur itinerary and you’ll have the dreamiest day hiking experience for beginners.

5. Jack’s Peak and Skyline Trail

Location: Jack’s Peak County Park, Monterey 

Level of difficulty: Easy

Distance: 0.8 miles

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: On leash

The Skyline Trail is easily the most satisfying hike in Jack’s Peak County Park. Considering how much of an easy hike this is, the impressive views on top make it seem like you’ve entered a cheat code. Primarily used for nature trips and bird watching, this beginner hike leads you to the park’s main feature—Jacks Peak. The peak is the highest point on the Monterey Peninsula and rises 1,068 feet above Monterey and Carmel. The best part? This short hike is off the beaten path, so you’ll likely have it all to yourself when you trek it.

You don’t need any special skills to hike; you just have to be able to walk and know where you are. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in nature.

6. Sand Dollar Beach Trail

Location: Los Padres National Forest, Jolon

Level of difficulty: Easy

Distance: 0.4 miles

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: On leash

The Sand Dollar Beach Trail is so short that it’s barely a hike. Nonetheless, this Big Sur hike is too beautiful not to feature on this list. Access this beginner hike at the northwest part of Los Padres National Forest and meander the half-mile all along a crescent-shaped arc. Since the trail is fairly short, take your time to stop and admire the Pacific Ocean in all its glory along the way.

Short Hikes for Newbies in Southern California

If you’re just starting out, pick a hike under five miles with minimal climbing. If you want to do a longer hike, make a training plan in advance.

7. Antelope Loop Trail

Location: Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Natural Reserve, Lancaster

Level of difficulty: Easy

Distance: 5.5 miles

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: No

The Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve is a California flower field known for its vibrant, orange poppy-covered hills. While the main wildflower blooms generally take place March through May, the hiking trails are beautiful to hike year-round. This wildflower trail is an easy beginner hike that exposes you to filaree, fiddleneck, silver puff, forget-me-nots, fringe pods, red maids, sun cups, and, of course, poppies.

Understanding where you are and where you're going is key to enjoying your hike. Electronic navigation and paper is a good route for hiking beginners.

8. Barker Dam Nature Trail

Location: Joshua Tree National Park, Joshua Tree

Level of difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.3 miles

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: No

The Barker Dam Nature Trail is the perfect way to get introduced to the best hikes in Joshua Tree. This easy hike gives you an opportunity to explore the cultural history of the area with pictographs and leads you to a water tank built by early cattle ranchers—the latter attracts lots of wildlife such as bighorn sheep and coyotes. If you want to see desert wildflowers, this beginner hiking trail is also one of the best ways to do exactly that. You’ll see Joshua trees, creosote, and pinyon pines, among other desert flowers, and have an overall pleasant introduction to the desert climate in California.

9. La Jolla Beach Trail

Location: 11101 North Torrey Pines Trail, La Jolla

Level of difficulty: Easy

Distance: 2.2 miles

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: Yes

La Jolla has hiking trails suitable for all ages and skill levels, but we have our eyes set on one. The La Jolla Beach Trail is one of the best and most scenic beginner hikes you’ll trek. While it can get crowded at times, the trail takes you along superb surf spots, sunbathing seals, and awesome vistas. Out of all the easy hikes in San Diego, this is one you definitely don’t want to miss.

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