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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.


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 embarking on your hiking adventure, it's beneficial to awaken your feet to enhance your sensory perception. Try wiggling your toes and attempt to move them individually—you might find it challenging to distinguish movement between your second and third toes initially. Explore various exercises to flex your foot and engage with parts of it that might have gone unnoticed; remember, your foot is a complex structure with 26 joints, along with additional movable joints connecting those bones. Familiarizing yourself with the diverse movements of your feet can increase their agility and improve their ability to absorb impact effectively.

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Don’t: Try to Do Too Much 

This advice holds particularly true for those who are newcomers to barefoot hiking. Specialists recommend engaging in daily practice sessions of about 10 minutes rather than attempting a full hour weekly. The idea is to progress gradually to avoid unnecessary frustration, such as irritation with a stubborn pinky toe that won't move as desired. Incremental practice is crucial as it allows your feet to gradually adapt and change. It's essential to listen to your body and nurture it patiently, instead of rushing the process.

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

Do: Foundation First

Embark on a leisurely stroll and pay attention to how the weight distributes across your foot—this serves as your base. Observe the initial point of impact and the subsequent path it takes through your foot. If you notice the weight transferring directly from your heel to your big toe, consider experimenting with different weight shifts. Aim to adjust your stride so that the weight moves from your heel towards your little toe, then spreads across to your big toe. This adjustment is crucial because the bones located on the outer side of your foot are the most substantial and are optimally designed to bear your body's entire weight.

Don’t: Get Scared of Germs

Indeed, considering the myriad of germs in our environment can be unsettling, but in the absence of broken bones or open wounds, there's generally no cause for alarm. Our skin serves as a natural barrier against external threats, and interestingly, a moist, dirty sock confined within a shoe is much more likely to be a breeding ground for bacteria. It's important to maintain awareness of your feet's condition and work towards overcoming the fear of germs for a healthier interaction with the world around us.

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 

Seeking out softer terrains can greatly benefit your feet. While some enthusiastic barefoot walkers might navigate concrete terrains in their quest for adventure, many prefer the gentler touch of nature—after all, our feet already endure enough. There's something uniquely soothing about the sensation of lush grass or the warmth of beach sand beneath our feet, wouldn't you agree? For those just starting on their barefoot journey, opting for a grassy knoll or sandy beach could be ideal.

For those looking to seriously engage in barefoot walking and rack up some distance, consider utilizing the rubber track commonly found at local high schools. This surface is safe and relatively gentle, and once your feet become accustomed to its distinct texture, you'll find your stride with ease.

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 stands as a testament to California's untamed beauty, a section of coastline untouched by the advance of paved roads, offering a true test of endurance for your bare feet. This trail provides a unique escape, a solitude seldom found in the bustling, tourist-filled expanse of the Golden State. Here, you're far removed from the sight of lavish homes and the endless streams of traffic, surrounded instead by the raw and unspoiled gifts of nature.

The Lands End Trail winds 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

Exploring Malibu's Escondido Canyon, you're likely to be welcomed by its standout attractions—a captivating duo of waterfalls. What's remarkable about this trail, which is perfectly suitable for a barefoot hike, is its exceptional upkeep. The paths are so well tended to that you can stroll without a second thought about the well-being of your feet, allowing you to fully immerse in the scenic views surrounding you.

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