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The 13 Best Backpacking Trips to Take in California

The 13 Best Backpacking Trips to Take in California

By Rebecca T.
March 02, 2021

As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe. 

The best way to welcome the changing season is by going out into nature and embracing it fully. Beat the crowds, cruise along roads less traveled, and let nature take its course this spring by going backpacking in California. Whether you’re spending your days by the SoCal coast or getting lost in the NorCal forests, the best backpacking trips in California await.

The Top Places to go backpacking in California

When it comes to outdoor recreation, the Golden State reigns supreme due to the biodiversity and sheer size of accessible terrain. Organizing a three-day backpacking trip in California is a piece of cake. You have 840 miles of coastline, nine national parks, 17 national forests, and 300 state parks at your disposal. 

But don’t feel overwhelmed just yet. Whether you’re heading for a last-minute winter backpacking trip in California or planning ahead for coastal trekking in the summertime, there’s something for everyone.

Backpacking in Southern California

The varied landscape of SoCal is worth exploring by foot.

Backpacking near San Diego

Thanks to its moderate climate, stunning natural scenery, and excellent cultural attractions, San Diego is a perfect city for backpacking any time of year. Explore the East Village and Little Italy to get to know the city. Then, head out to Mission Bay and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park (one of the best state parks near San Diego) to delve into the city’s nature. If you’re a history buff, make sure to add Balboa Park and Old Town San Diego to your itinerary.

As for camping in the great outdoors, Anza Borrego Desert State Park’s campgrounds are perfect for spending the night under the stellar night sky. Overall, backpacking in San Diego is as universally appealing as it can be.

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Whether you're venturing out to San Diego or here to Big Bear Lake, Southern California's backpacking destinations don't disappoint.

Big Bear backpacking

Cougar Crest, Butler Peak, and Siberia Creek paths are some of the best backpacking trails in California near Big Bear City. Lose yourself in the lush meadows and enjoy exploring the varied terrain for a backpacking trip you’ll never forget. From wooded walks to sweeping vistas, there's something to marvel at on any hike or bike ride when backpacking in Big Bear. 

Despite having very rich wildlife, there is a slim possibility of facing any real danger while backpacking here. You may spot squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits on your trip, but hikers rarely run into bears, mountain lions, or rattlesnakes. The best way to prepare for all unforeseen difficulties is to brush up on your knowledge of the outdoors and come prepared with your remote camping essentials.

Backpacking near Santa Barbara

With Los Padres National Forest to the east and Channel Islands National Park a couple of miles offshore, Santa Barbara is abundant with backpacking and camping spots. Make the most of your next getaway to Santa Barbara by discovering the city sans luxuries and experiencing the best of the area through exhilarating adventures.

For backpacking on the California coast, head to the picturesque Carpinteria Beach. As for inland adventures, make Red Rock Pools your destination of choice. The private campgrounds along the Gaviota Coast make your overnight stay in Santa Barbara as scenic as can be. If you have extra time to spare, explore it all on a three-day backpacking trip in California; the memories of which you’ll cherish forever.

While Los Angeles might not be the first backpacking region that comes to mind, it offers beautiful scenery and remote trails.

Backpacking near Los Angeles

From quick half-day adventures to full-on multi-day trips, backpacking in Los Angeles is fun for all types of travelers. Explore L.A.’s state parks, cruise down the iconic streets, and bask in the sun on its popular beaches for fun-filled adventures—you’ll have plenty of opportunities to mingle with other travelers passing through L.A.

Then,head over to Angeles National Forest for a remote backpacking experience near Los Angeles. Backpacking trails, scenic camping destinations, and other recreational activities will make you feel closer to nature.

Crystal Cove State Park backpacking

As any guide to Crystal Cove State Park would tell you, this backpacking spot near Orange County is a piece of heaven on earth. Hike the Crystal Cove Perimeter Loop, explore the historic district’s charming cottages, and unwind on the beach campground—you’ll be glad you made this O.C. gem your backpacking destination of choice.

The plethora of gorgeous trails at Crystal Cove allows you to easily escape the crowds to connect with nature. Take advantage of the rolling surf, white sandy beaches, and wooded canyons that make this the best backpacking trip in California.

Kennedy Meadows backpacking

Kennedy Meadows has been a go-to gathering destination for people of varied interests for more than a century. An ideal place to meet travelers, this Tulare County locale is heaven for those backpacking in Southern California. Another perk of this remote spot is its variety of outdoor recreational activities. 

Hikers, photographers, and nature lovers of all kinds enjoy Kennedy Meadows backpacking year-round. If hiking the Pacific Crest Trail has been on your bucket list for a while now, the meadow is in close proximity to the trail—another reason to keep it on your radar.

Backpacking in Northern California

There's nothing quite like backpacking through Northern California and stumbling on panoramic views like this.

Big Sur backpacking

As one of the best summer backpacking destinations, Big Sur truly has something for everyone. The wildflower-covered hills, hidden swimming holes, and majestic Santa Lucia Mountains fill every Big Sur backpacking trip with secret treasures.

For a long adventurous weekend in Big Sur, trek the Pine Ridge Trail for 12 miles until you reach Redwood Camp. Though somewhat strenuous, this backpacking trip in Northern California takes you to places like Terrace Creek, Barlow Flats, and Sykes Hot Springs—a must-see Golden State hot spring.  

Backpacking in the Bay Area

Backpacking might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Bay Area, but there’s a plethora of backcountry hiking and camping destinations that make it a prime spot for off-grid traveling.

If you’re just discovering backpacking in Northern California, consider making Angel Island your first destination. Here, you’ll find some of the Bay Area’s best hiking trails, prominent historic attractions, and scenic city views. 

If you have more experience under your belt, trek the 25-mile Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. The rewarding trail starts at Saratoga Gap off Highway 9 and travels through Big Basin Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. This hike offers striking backcountry views that’ll make the leg cramps worthwhile.

Northern California is full of incredible backpacking locales, including here in the Trinity Alps mountains.

Trinity Alps backpacking

Are you an experienced backpacker seeking a challenge and solitude? Explore the densely forested Trinity Alps Wilderness between Eureka and Redding. Camp, fish, swim, hike, and get a taste of remote living in Northern California on an old-school backpacking adventure you’ll never forget. Exhilarating adventures and breathtaking scenery await you on your Trinity Alps backpacking trip.

Plumas National Forest backpacking

There is no better way to enjoy Plumas County's beauty than to experience it first-hand. The Plumas National Forest attracts outdoor enthusiasts year-round. Its streams, lakes, meadows, and lofty peaks make for exciting adventures. 

Enjoy a Plumas National Forest backpacking experience by trekking the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail which stretches approximately 80 miles. If you plan on spending the night, this NorCal destination features lakeside campgrounds and remote mountain stream hideouts.

Mammoth Lakes is an idyllic place to explore by foot. Plan a California backpacking trip and admire this stunning scenery.

Mammoth Lakes backpacking

Mammoth Lakes is an ideal base camp for courageous souls venturing out to the Eastern Sierra. Beautiful alpine lakes, dramatic mountain peaks, and the chance to hike sections of world-famous trails make Mammoth Lakes backpacking the trip of a lifetime. Hike, camp, cast a line, and discover a plethora of recreational activities on your getaway to Mammoth Lakes. You'll want to go on this California backpacking trip multiple times.

Backpacking in Mendocino

The Mendocino National Forest is one of the best backpacking trips in California for those who love hiking through lush forests and camping by glimmering waters. Take your time exploring the area and look out for gorgeous fir species along with indigenous wildlife such as owls, bears, and deer. 

You’ll find plenty of hiking trails here, as well as cool spots for overnight stays ranging from classic campgrounds to boutique seaside inns. Backpacking in Mendocino is an experience that everyone can enjoy.

Backpacking near Mount Shasta

Head out to the Shasta-Trinity National Forest for a magical escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Spend your days hiking the forest’s trails, biking along Bowerman Ridge, and climbing up the granite spires in the Castle Crags Wilderness. 

After spending an action-packed day, relax and inhale the fresh smell of pine trees at the Shasta-Cascade forest campgrounds. Whatever your goals are going into this trip, backpacking near Mount Shasta is an escape you’ll undoubtedly enjoy.

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