The 5 Best California Backpacking Destinations for Summer

The 5 Best California Backpacking Destinations for Summer

By Rachael Medina June 01, 2020

As communities across the world and in California mitigate health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are shifting our content focus and not encouraging any travel or social activities during this time. We will, however, continue to shine a light on and celebrate the many beautiful aspects of our State with the intention of being a source of inspiration and joy during this difficult period. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.

If you’re a backpacking aficionado, you likely already know that summer is backpacking season, and you’re ready to hit the trails on your next wilderness adventure. Since the Golden State is home to numerous outdoor destinations full of varied landscapes, diverse wildlife, and enviable climates, it’s a prime place for backpackers. Whether you’re yearning to traverse undulating mountains, meander through verdant forests, or hike along the epic coastline, California has the backpacking trail for you. 

The Best Summer Backpacking Destinations


The Golden State is unlike anywhere else. From arid deserts to foggy oceansides, there are no limits to what you can conquer here. Indeed, there are endless options for backpacking in California, but there are a few fan-favorite standouts. 

While some of these locales require permits and are only open seasonally, they are well worth the extra planning. So make reservations, secure your permits, dust off your trusty hiking boots, secure a waterproof backpack, and start packing—this is going to be a summer to remember.

Pack up the camping gear and prepare to embark on a memorable backpacking adventure through the famous Yosemite National Park.

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1. Yosemite National Park 

The iconic Yosemite National Park offers several options for backpackers of all skill levels. Whether you choose to explore the spectacular, 8.6-mile Cathedral Lakes Trail or the famed, 14.8-mile Half Dome Hike, you can’t go wrong with backpacking here. 

In addition to the well-known trails, Yosemite National Park is jam-packed with natural wonders. Waterfalls, wildflower-dotted meadows, sequoia groves, and pools of water greet you around every turn, as the fresh scent of nature solidifies the scenes in your mind. 

Yosemite is an ideal destination for those who enjoy the company of others; it is one of the most visited parks in America, so don’t expect to escape the crowds here. But if you’re willing to share the famous views with people from all over the globe, you’ll be rewarded with memories that will last a lifetime.   

Pros: Gorgeous scenery, incredible vistas, hundreds of species of flora and fauna, affordable park fees, natural waterfalls, and rock climbing

Cons: Crowded, rocky roads; must make reservations well in advance; strict camping  rules 

Permit required: Yes

Preferable seasons: Spring, summer, fall

Day-use or parking pass required: Yes

Dogs allowed: Yes

Hike through the lush, breathtaking terrain of Trinity Alps Wilderness for a more secluded escape.

2. Trinity Alps Wilderness 

Situated inland from Eureka, near the northern edge of California, the Trinity Alps Wilderness is home to 47 scenic trails and hundreds of miles of lush land. This densely forested region lies between the scenic Coastal Range and the stunning Shasta Cascade, making it a great road trip destination from Chico or Redding—plus a perfect place to camp, fish, and hike. 

Since the Trinity Alps Wilderness is off-the-beaten-path, it is less frequented by visitors, so it is an ideal spot for experienced backpackers seeking solitude. In addition to the lack of crowds, hiking enthusiasts will enjoy more strenuous routes, so adventurers who travel here should come expecting a challenge. But the burning sensations in your legs will certainly be worth it once you witness all the breathtaking scenery the Trinity Alps Wilderness has to offer.

Pros: Beautiful mountain views, ample water sources, swimming, vibrant wildflowers

Cons: Seasonal bugs, rattlesnakes, overgrown trails

Permit required: Yes

Preferable seasons: Summer, fall

Day-use or parking pass required: No

Dogs allowed: Yes

Enjoy a scenic backpacking trip through the fragrant forest found within Sequoia National Park.

3. Sequoia National Park

Complete with towering trees and miles of scenic pathways, Sequoia National Park is a recreational wonderland for backpackers wanting to explore a world unlike any other. As the name implies, Sequoia National Park is most famous for its old-growth sequoia trees, though it also offers access to popular trails such as the John Muir Trail and High Sierra Trail, along with vistas of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and access to Mount Whitney—which boasts one of the highest peaks in America. 

As one of the few national parks with a largely unchanged landscape, Sequoia National Park gives you the opportunity to see a slice of history firsthand. So, whether you’re prepared with a daypack for a short excursion along Moro Rock Trail or you’re setting out with a camping backpack for a multi-day wilderness journey, Sequoia National Park makes for an unforgettable experience.

Pros: Giant sequoia groves, access to the High Sierra

Cons: Trails closed in winter, park entrance fee

Permit required: Only for certain areas

Preferable seasons: Spring, summer, fall

Day-use or parking pass required: No

Dogs allowed: Yes

Explore the backcountry hiking trails of Crystal Cove State Park to admire the pristine coastal landscape and ocean views.

4. Crystal Cove State Park

Crystal Cove State Park's rolling surf, sandy beaches, gently sloping hills, and deeply wooded canyons and ridges make it a prime backpacking destination. Located in Orange County, the park draws backpackers in-the-know with its sweeping ocean panoramas and gorgeous paths. Whether you’re looking for a quick trip or an extended exploration, this is the perfect destination for you. Since there are plenty of backpacking trails, you can easily leave the crowds behind and snag the million-dollar sunset vistas all to yourself. 

Pros: Epic sunsets, beautiful beach views, ample camping spots, not overly crowded

Cons: No coal or wood fires allowed, parking fee, rattlesnakes 

Permit required: No

Preferable seasons: Winter, spring, summer, fall

Day-use or parking pass required: Yes

Dogs allowed: No

Trek through the rugged, remote Lost Coast for a challenging yet rewarding backpacking experience.

5. The Lost Coast

Grab your sturdiest hiking backpack, tidal chart, compass, and boots—this adventure is one for the books. The rugged Lost Coast is one of the top remote destinations in the Golden State and a true explorer’s paradise. With high tides, rugged terrain, and a silence that is often only broken by the sounds of waves meeting the shore, this backpacking region is best suited for very experienced hikers.  

Travel over rocks, sand, and forested pathways while battling harsh and unpredictable weather conditions to discover some of the least seen coastal regions in California. Make sure to plan your trip well in advance, and grab a crew of your most adventurous friends to stay safe along this intriguing trail. 

Pros: Stunning Pacific views, few other hikers, bragging rights

Cons: Incredibly difficult terrain best saved for seasoned hikers, rattlesnakes, poison oak

Permit required: Yes

Preferable seasons: Summer, fall

Day-use or parking pass required: No, but you will need to purchase a shuttle pass to travel from Black Sands Beach if you plan to hike the whole trail 

Dogs allowed: Yes, but not recommended

Where is your favorite spot to go backpacking in the summer? Let us know in the comments below.

WRITTEN BY
Rachael Medina

WRITTEN BY Rachael Medina

Rachael Medina is the staff writer and content manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests of Humboldt C…

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