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The Dos and Don'ts of Barefoot Hiking in California
Health & Fitness

The Dos and Don'ts of Barefoot Hiking in California

Barefoot hiking has gone from being a kooky and playful trend to a scientifically researched practice with a plethora of health advantages.

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6 min read

November 05, 2021

Walking barefoot might be something you do at home, but many take it all the way to the great outdoors, making it an integral part of their fitness routine—would you care to join them? Also known as ‘earthing,’ barefoot hiking has gone from being a kooky and playful trend to a scientifically researched practice with a plethora of health advantages.

For one, walking without the constraint of shoes opens up a world of new sensations. Just think back to your toddler days when you were just learning to walk. Didn’t everything feel new and exciting on your bare skin? Parents are always encouraged to let this process happen naturally without shoes so that the senses are developed to their full potential. But why should toddlers have all the fun? Whether you’re entertaining your inner child or trying out a new way to traverse California’s scenic trails, barefoot hiking will heel you; body and soul.

Everything You Need To Know About Barefoot Trekking: Dos and Don’ts

Not many people know that the foot-ankle assembly has thirty-three joints, twenty-six bones, and more than a hundred muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

Do: Get Hands-On with Your Feet

Before you set out trekking, wake up your feet first to improve your sensory awareness. Wiggle your toes and see if you can control individual movement in each—you’d be surprised, but many of us can’t tell the difference between the second and third toes at first. Find different ways to flex your foot and move the parts you never were aware of before; there are 26 joints that make up your toes and foot, plus moveable joints between each of those bones. Making sure you know the ways your feet move will help them become agile, thus absorbing the stress better.

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Don’t: Try to Do Too Much 

This is especially true when you’re new to barefoot trekking. According to experts, it’s better to practice for 10 minutes every day rather than going in for a full hour once a week. Even if you’re just saving yourself the frustration—getting mad at your pinky because it doesn’t seem to budge—practicing little by little is key. Your feet will change and adapt, and it’s more than important that you tend to your body rather than trying to get a jump start.

The sole with all its mechanoreceptors allows you to fully experience your environment, including the terrain, temperature, and vegetation coverage.

Do: Foundation First

Take a walk around and see where you feel the weight land in your foot—this is your foundation. Make note of where it lands first and how it travels through your foot. If it goes from your heel to your big foot right away, get creative and experiment with shifting your weight. Try and see if the weight can go from your heel to your little toe and then across to the big toe. This is essential because the bones in the outer part of the foot are the largest and also best equipped to support the full weight of your body.

Don’t: Get Scared of Germs

Sure, the world is pretty gross if you think about it, but unless you don’t have any broken bones or open wounds, you’re going to be fine. The skin is designed to protect us, and besides, a damp dirty sock inside a shoe has a far higher chance of harboring bacteria. Stay in tune with your feet and try to get over the whole germ paranoia.

Hiking barefoot has benefits in muscle strengthening. Feet and legs gradually become stronger and more flexible, which is their natural state.

Do: Scout for the Best Surfaces 

The softer ground you manage to find, the better it is for your feet. And while die-hard barefooters go bravely across concrete in search of adventure, most of us are pretty tame—our soles already work very hard. Besides, the feel of freshly cut grass or warm sand under our feet is much better, don’t you think? So, if you’re only beginning as a barefoot hiker, try and find a grassy park or beach.

Alternatively, if you want to get serious about logging miles barefoot, the rubber track at a local high school is also an option. This is a relatively safe and forgiving surface, and once your feet get used to the knobby texture, you’re gold.

Barefoot Hiking Trails in Northern California

The Lost Coast is a stretch of coastline so rugged that roads have not conquered it. The remoteness is a rare respite from the rest of the state.

The Lost Coast Trail: Mattole to Black Sands Beach

Location: King Range Wilderness, Ferndale
Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Parking: Available at the Nadelos Tenting Area 
Difficulty: Moderate 
Distance: 25.3 miles 
Time: 3–4 days 
Route: Point to point 
Dogs allowed: Yes 

The Lost Coast is a stretch of California coastline so rugged that roads have not conquered it—test if your feet are up to the task. The remoteness you get through this trail is a rare respite from the otherwise tourist-brimming Golden State. No mansions or congested lines of traffic; just you and nature’s bounty.

The Lands End's Trail wind its way around rocky cliffs above the ocean, moving through shady stands of cypress and eucalyptus.

Lands End Trail

Location: Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco 
Hours: Sunrise to sunset 
Parking: Available at the trailhead 
Difficulty: Moderate 
Distance: 3.4 miles 
Time: 2.5–3 hours 
Route: Loop
Dogs allowed: On leash

One of the best places to barefoot hike in San Francisco is the beautiful Lands End Trail. With miles of scenic views, this hike provides fantastic vistas of the famed coastal terrain—it also lets you in on glimpses of the Golden Gate Bridge from many different angles.

Glen Canyon Park offers an experience of San Francisco's diverse terrains as they appeared before the intense development of the region.

Glen Park Canyon Trail

Location: Glen Canyon Park, San Francisco
Hours: Sunrise to sunset 
Parking: Available at the park's entrance 
Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 1.8 miles 
Time: 45 minutes 
Route: Loop
Dogs allowed: On leash

Glen Canyon Park is a 70-acre canyon sandwiched between the pristine neighborhoods in San Francisco. It’s lush and well-maintained, meaning that both you and your four-legged friend can enjoy it without worrying about damaging your legs and paws. If you’re a beginner, this is a great place to start practicing barefoot hiking.

Barefoot Hiking Trails in Southern California 

It’s always refreshing to be out in nature away from your everyday life but so fun to explore somewhere new.

El Matador, La Piedra and El Pescador State Beaches Trail

Location: Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach, Malibu
Hours: Sunrise to sunset 
Parking: Available along the Pacific Coast Highway
Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 2.4 miles 
Time: 1.5 hours 
Route: Out and back 
Dogs allowed: No

The delights of a long beach walk are cliched for a reason; nothing compares with strolling along the Pacific shoreline, coffee in hand. The renowned trio of strands—El Matador, La Piedra, and El Pescador—are the best barefoot hiking trails you’ll find along the beach, paired with glimpses of spectacular sunsets.

Enjoy the scene of the Arroyo Seco and the world-famous Rose Bowl in Pasadena and ride or run around this quick loop.

The Arroyo Seco and Rose Bowl Loop

Location: Brookside Park, Pasadena
Hours: Sunrise to sunset 
Parking: Available near the park's entrance 
Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 3.1 miles 
Time: 2.5 hours
Route: Loop
Dogs allowed: On leash

The charming Arroyo Seco Loop has a lot of stretches for you to ditch your shoes and hike barefoot. You can link up with power walkers, joggers, and casual strollers, and walk with them all the way until you reach Washington Boulevard. The mostly unshaded trail is pretty much accessible year-round, so you won’t have to worry about barefoot hiking in the winter. 

When Escondido Falls is flowing strong, it is flat out one of the finest waterfalls around Los Angeles.

Escondido Falls Trail

Location: Escondido Canyon Park, Malibu
Hours: Sunrise to sunset 
Parking: Available at the PCH
Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 3.7 miles 
Time: 1 hour 45 minutes 
Route: Out and back
Dogs allowed: On leash

If you visit Malibu’s Escondido Canyon, chances are its most famous feature—a pair of waterfalls—will greet you in their full glory. The great thing about this hiking trail (which you can definitely do barefoot) is the fact that everything is so well-maintained, you won’t even have to think twice about your soles; just take in the vistas.

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