California’s 10 Best National Park Dayhikes
Did someone say National Park Week?
National Park Week kicks off on Saturday.
To celebrate, we put together our all-time bucket-list of day hikes from National Park sites across the state, from Kings Canyon National Park to Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
They’ve got it all, from windswept beaches to snow-covered peaks to actual volcanoes and boiling mud pots. And condors. And redwoods. And otters.
Grab the compass and get hiking.
Point Reyes: Tomales Point Trail
Is it the best beach hike in all of California? (Yes.) The Tomales Point Trail lacks the Bon Iver-style moodiness of some hikes farther north (see below), though the frequent fog can add a certain coziness. A clear day, on the other hand, can make for best-in-a-lifetime Pacific views.
Yosemite: Half Dome via John Muir and Mist trails
You’ll need a permit to get to the top, and Yosemite is rarely not crowded — but this might otherwise be the closest a hiker can get to paradise in the California woods. Going up the Mist Trail and down John Muir (for 15.5 miles total) will save you some of the former’s stairs.
Lassen: Lassen Peak
Lassen is California’s great undiscovered gem — a volcanic park with bubbling hot pots, sulphur vents and boiling springs. A boardwalk takes kids past this live-action class in geology, but the real hiking event is the peak. It’s only 2.5 miles to the top — but you’re setting off from 8,500 feet, so prepare for a workout.
Death Valley: Zabriskie Point
This out-and-back trail’s not even a half-mile, but sometimes you need a family-friendly hike with a spectacular payoff (or a low-mileage option on a hot day). The wildly colorful surrounding badlands are even more so at sunset — just don’t expect a private experience.
Redwood: Hidden Beach
This 7.6-mile out-and-back has everything you’d expect from a bucket-list coastal hike up north: redwoods, ferns, fog, driftwood and a gray-sand beach. Get lucky with a blue sky and you might just tack on a couple extra days to do the Lost Coast Trail on your way back south.
Kings Canyon: Mist Falls
You’ll skirt the base of some nice peaks on this 8.1-mile loop. It’s typically accessible from May onwards; coming earlier in the season increases your chances of full-on water volume in the highly Instagrammable cascades and on the Kings River.
Pinnacles: High Peaks to Balconies Cave
Come to Pinnacles, recently elevated from the ranks of a national monument to a full-on National Park, to see California condors sailing on the currents. This 8.4-mile hike offers the option of through or over Balconies Cave; if the former, bring a flashlight.
Whiskeytown: Shasta Bally Trail
This 11-mile out-and-back is one of the best wilderness workouts in the state — there’s nothing technical here, but the elevation climb is steady until you hit the top. The top, by the way, is incredible, with panoramic views of Mount Shasta and the Trinity Alps.
Santa Monica Mountains: Solstice Canyon Trail
If you don’t have time to do the 65-mile Backbone Trail along the Santa Monica Mountains, you can get a taste of this spectacular park with this easy 2.1-mile loop. En route you’ll pass a waterfall and the remains of the Paul Williams-designed Roberts Ranch House.
Joshua Tree: Panorama Loop
Joshua trees are even more dramatic from above — so climb about 1,100 feet for a walk along the ridgeline of the Little San Bernardino Mountains. It’s a six-and-a-half mile loop from the trailhead; expect sweeping views and a walk through a unique, high-elevation pinyon-juniper woodland.
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