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The 5 Best California Backpacking Destinations for Summer
Health & Fitness

The 5 Best California Backpacking Destinations for Summer

From undulating mountains, to coastal expanses, to verdant forests, here are some of the top spots for backpacking in California.


5 min read

June 01, 2023

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

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 

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.   

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

2. Trinity Alps Wilderness 

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

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.

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

3. Sequoia National Park

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

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.

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

4. Crystal Cove State Park

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

Nestled in Orange County, Crystal Cove State Park offers an idyllic setting for backpackers seeking adventure amidst nature's beauty. With its combination of lush, wooded areas, undulating hills, and pristine beaches caressed by the surf, the park is a coveted spot for those in search of scenic ocean views and tranquil paths.

It caters to all kinds of visitors, whether you're planning a short jaunt or a longer journey of discovery. The abundance of trails here means you can venture away from the hustle and bustle, finding your own serene spot to enjoy breathtaking sunset views in solitude.

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

5. The Lost Coast

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

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. 

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