Staff Picks: Top 10 California Backpacking Destinations

Staff Picks: Top 10 California Backpacking Destinations

From forest-y destinations to coastlines and the mountains, one would imagine it be impossible to have all these coincide with another. Yet in California, these places are just a few hours of a drive away from each other, making the Golden State a true mecca of outdoor recreation and travel.

The fact of the matter is, this state is huge; California is home to over 14 million acres of wilderness. To even the most driven backpacker, that’s quite a lot of ground to cover. So, we thought we’d help narrow a list down of our favorite backpacking destinations.


Canyon Creek Lakes

Located in Trinity Alps, this backpacking destination is surrounded with granite mountains, waterfalls, and turquoise lakes that you can take a dip in. The trail is about a 16-mile roundtrip hike with an elevation gain of 2,600 feet. This destination is popular during the Summer seasons and can get very crowded. There are many areas to camp along the way to Canyon Creek Lakes, many of which are well maintained and allow for campfires (be sure to check the rules around the area). 

Wilderness Permits are required to hike in the Trinity Alps but are free to obtain at any of the ranger stations with advanced reservation.


Pine Ridge, Big Sur

If you’re looking to backpack around Big Sur, Pine Ridge is a great destination through the Redwoods. Although a bit challenging, we would suggest breaking this down into a 4-day hike. The trail is packed with trees, wildlife, creeks for water source, elevation, and amazing views of the Pacific Ocean that make it all worthwhile.


Cone Peak, Big Sur

Another backpacking destination in Big Sur that can’t be missed is Cone Peak. Cone Peak stands at 5,155 feet high and less than 3 miles from the ocean making it one of the most remarkable coastal mountains in the country.

You can opt for doing just a day-hike by driving to Sur-Nacimeniento Road from Highway 1 to Cost Ride Road and take a 2-mile trail to the summit. For the more adventurous, the peak can also be hiked from sea to summit, starting at Kirk Creek and up the Vicente Flat Trail, a 23 mile roundtrip hike.


Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite Valley

If you are looking to be away from the crowds in the summer months, Yosemite Valley offers a great opportunity to camp around the off-season period. Although it may be 5-6 days, your long hike will be immediately rewarded with the surrounding scenery and iconic Yosemite landmarks.

Plan early for this trip, as you will need to reserve a Wilderness Permit through the park. Spots are usually limited.

Tip #1: You’ll be trekking through bear country, so bring a bear canister with you. Canisters can also be rented at the Permit Office. 

Tip #2: Yosemite Valley also has a shuttle system that can take you almost anywhere in the valley. Check out the shuttle system through the YARTS website for status and times.


Glacier Point, Yosemite

Glacier point is a well sought out destination in Yosemite and can get packed with crowds. At this spot, you’ll take on 3,200 ft of elevation and be welcomed with remarkable views of Yosemite’s landmarks, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Cathedral Rocks, and Sentinel Rock. Starting from Four Mile Trailhead, the hike to Glacier Point is about 4.7 miles. Permits are required to hike and issued by park rangers.


Boy Scouts Trail, Joshua Tree

Boy Scout’s Trail in Joshua Tree is an 8-mile hike connecting the main park to Indian Cove Campground. The trail will make you feel like you're on another planet, with gigantic boulders and joshua trees all around. 

Backcountry camping is allowed in various zones that can be viewed on the map. To do so, you must fill out a registration card at the backcountry registration board. Registration is free and most places along the trail are available to camp as long as it meets the requirements of being 1 mile from the road and 500 feet from the trail. 

There are reservable campsites for car camping but you must book months in advance. You’d be lucky enough to get one during the weekday.  


Idlehour, Angeles National Forest

Hidden in the San Gabriel Mountains and deep into the Angeles National Forest, lies Idlehour. The trail consist of 12 miles; during the trail, you get hit with views of Downtown Los Angeles and into a forest-y wilderness that makes you almost forget how close you are to Pasadena.


Ropi Lake

Ropi Lake is a 5.6 mile round-trip hike from south of Lake Tahoe. The trail takes you into some of the most magnificent waterfalls around Lake Tahoe, and you will have the opportunity to set up camp in various viewpoints of the Lake. Though the hike may see short, be prepared for a high elevation gain of 1900 feet while scrambling through large boulders to get back on the trail.


Camp at Santa Rosa Island

Backcountry beach camping is available mid-August through December. Most of the trail is along the beach, dirt roads, and unmaintained paths. Some destinations may even require kayaking. 


Mount Whitney

Backpacking Mt Whitney is on almost every hiker’s bucket list. The elevation gain is approximately 14,505 feet, making it the highest point in the lower 48 states. There are many options to hike to this summit; however, the most popular and better chance at getting a permit is about 22 miles and starts at the Whitney Portal. Most popular places to camp are at Consultation Lake or Lone Pine Lake, all offer water and are first-come first-serve. 


And that concludes our top 10 destinations in for backpacking in California! Comment below if you have a favorite spot that we didn’t list here.

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