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…See full bio
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.
Summer officially begins on June 21, but since the Golden State’s warm weather is already upon us, we’re settling into a summer state of mind. So bring on the luxurious camping destinations, summer road trips, backpacking excursions, and spontaneous ice-cream parlor visits. While it’s easy to hike year-round here, there’s something about the long summer days that makes you want to get out and explore California’s hiking trails, from the Bay Area’s mountain hikes, to Contra Costa’s scenic trails, to Hollywood’s best pathways.
Ready to tackle the best hikes in California? Whether you’re dreaming of conquering the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), chasing waterfalls along the Central Coast, or scaling mountains in Southern California, these summer hiking trails have something for everyone.
Location: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Monterey County
Distance: 1.1 miles
Type: Out and back
As one of the best-known waterfall trails in California, the McWay Falls loop is Big Sur’s most popular trail. Though it’s a shorter hike, the breathtaking views are well worth the stop. Plus, with the warm summer weather, this trek is a great way to ease into a season of more strenuous activities.
Location: Yosemite National Park, Mariposa County
Distance: 1.6 miles
Type: Out and back
It’s hard to go wrong with any hiking trail in Yosemite National Park, but with both the PCT and the John Muir Trail running through the park, finding a short stint to hike can be a challenge. Luckily, the region near Tuolumne Meadows makes for an ideal day hike, particularly if you’re trying to get away from the crowds in Yosemite Valley.
As part of the 195-mile-long Sierra High Route, this hike offers stunning views as you pass through open meadows, past pools of water, and across the Tuolumne Meadows footbridge. The easygoing trek ends at Parsons Memorial Lodge—one of the oldest rustic stone buildings in a national park—where you can take in the scenery before heading back toward your car. If you still have energy left, check out the Yosemite Falls hike.
Location: Mount Laguna, San Diego County
Distance: 10.3 miles
Nestled among black oak trees and Jeffrey pines, the Big Laguna Mountain Loop Trail is one of the best shaded hiking trails in Southern California, making it an excellent choice on a hot summer day. Since this hike is also quite lengthy, bring enough water and come prepared for the varied terrain; from wildflower-strewn meadows, to forested regions, to desert mountains, you can see it all here. Keep an eye out for the local wildlife, too, and head out early in the morning for a chance to see the sun rise over the Anza-Borrego Desert.
The path crosses both the Big Laguna Trail and the southern section of the PCT, so pay close attention to the trail markers. The PCT portion of the trail is often considered to be the more difficult part, so most hikers start trekking toward the west and end with the PCT segment (though there is markedly less shade on the eastern side).
Location: Paradise Springs, Los Angeles County
Distance: 8.9 miles
Type: Out and back
Located in Angeles National Forest, Mount Baden-Powell offers one of the best hikes in Southern California. The pathway follows the PCT and features numerous switchbacks, making for a challenging adventure in the San Gabriel Mountains—but the views at the peak make it all worth it. Plus, there’s typically shade on the north side thanks to the forested hills and old-growth trees, so it’s a pleasant place to hike early in the day during the summertime.
Location: Ramona, San Diego County
Distance: 7.6 miles
Type: Out and back
The Mount Woodson Trail is a popular, heavily trafficked pathway that passes by the famous Potato Chip Rock and Lake Poway on the way to the summit of Mount Woodson, a coveted destination for photo ops and panoramic views. You’ll get a great workout on this 7.6-mile trail, but due to the lack of shade, make sure to pack plenty of water and visit early in the day for cooler temperatures.
While you may be tempted to head right out to your favorite summer trails, an extra set of challenges comes along with hiking in the heat, so it’s best to be prepared. Here are a few things you should know before finalizing your plans.
Wear Hiking Shoes
Wearing appropriate footwear can make all the difference when traversing the dusty trail, trekking through pools of water, and venturing across a variety of terrain. So, whether you prefer to hit the trails in durable hiking boots or Teva sandals, it’s important to protect your feet—you never know what you might encounter on your excursion.
Get a Good Hat
A sturdy hat can not only help prevent sunburns, but also provide shade so you won’t overheat. If you need some inspiration, check out the state’s best outdoor gear brands, and stock up on anything else you might need to make your trek more comfortable.
The sun often beats down on the Golden State—especially in the summertime—so it’s easy to get gnarly burns if you aren’t careful, making a good mineral sunscreen your new best friend. Be sure to bring it with you, too, and reapply along the way.
Much like bringing a hat and sunscreen, sunglasses can make any California summer hike more pleasant. California-based company Sunski is a great choice, combining outdoor performance, sustainability, and style to craft enviable sunwear.
Pack Snacks and Tons of Water
California’s weather can be intense and unpredictable, so it’s vital to carry food and water with you on any hike, especially since shade is sparse on many Golden State trails. When hiking in the desert or in other dry, sunny regions, travelers ought to be prepared to drink two gallons of water per day—plan accordingly. Throw a couple of protein bars and other snacks into your pack, too, and you’re good to go.
Consider the Trail Conditions
Since many regions of the state can experience temperatures well into the hundreds during the summertime, hikers should consider the conditions they will encounter along the way. Desert trails, for example, prove to be much more strenuous in the summer than in other times of the year, so it could be best to save them for your autumn trail hikes. Shade and water along the trail also make a huge difference—as does the elevation of your desired trail—so you can use these factors to anticipate the difficulty and measure the distance you ought to hike, given the current conditions.
Use the Buddy System
Along with making for a more fun experience, bringing a friend with you on your hike is safer than solo hiking. Veteran hikers needn’t worry quite as much, but those who are just starting out or who have yet to hike in such high temperatures and unique terrains should use caution. In the wilderness, phone reception can be spotty or nonexistent, making it even more beneficial to bring someone on the trip.
If you love hiking in California, share your favorite warm-weather trails and hiking essentials in the comments below.
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