The hustle and bustle of daily life can get a little exhausting, so you may be looking for a way to destress and get away from it all. Escaping into nature is a therapeutic exercise perfect for cleansing both your mind and body. Whether you live in the Sacramento area or find yourself traveling to the surrounding areas sometime soon, you need to take advantage of the countless hiking trails scattered throughout the region. From breathtaking treks in Yosemite National Park to local trails in Sacramento, here are the best hiking trails in northern California.
Best National Park Trails
As you start planning your nature getaway, you’ll want to pay special attention to the national park trails near your basecamp. From the volcanic beauty of Lassen National Park to the iconic view of Yosemite, there are countless hiking opportunities to experience. Check out these top national park trails you don’t want to miss.
Yosemite National Park: Mist Trail
When you think of hiking trails in northern California, Yosemite National Park is one of the first spots that comes to mind. The Mist Trail, in particular, draws in hikers from all over the world. This 8.8 mile loop leads you to Vernal and Nevada Falls, taking you through lush forests to cascading waterfalls.
As you climb up 2,191 feet in elevation, you’ll feel a gentle mist from the nearby waterfall, which is much welcomed because this national park trail is quite strenuous. The hike is completely worth it, but keep in mind that the crowds flock here during the day. Plan to leave early to beat the rush!
COVID-19 Update: In an effort to create social distancing, you can no longer return via the Mist Trail. You must take the John Muir trail from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Due to current health guidelines, reservations are required for all entries into Yosemite National Park.
Pinnacles National Park: Condor Gulch Trail
A lesser known nature escape you’ve got to experience is Pinnacles National Park. This park sits right atop the San Andreas fault which is why there are so many caves and rock formations to explore. While you’re there, get your steps in by hiking the Condor Gulch Trail to High Peaks Trail loop. This national park hike is also rated as hard, so you might want to make sure everyone in your party is in good shape before heading out.
As you walk the 5.4 mile loop, there are tons of beautiful sights to take in. From condors flying above you to caves, wildflowers, and a lake, the scenery is something out of a movie.
COVID-19 Update: Visitors are encouraged to arrive before 11 a.m. and after 3:30 pm.m due to parking restrictions. In addition to this, the Nature and Visitor Centers, shuttle services, and cave trails remain closed.
Lassen Volcanic National Park: Lassen Peak
Yet another hidden gem in northern California is Lassen Volcanic National Park. As you can probably guess, the national park trails here are centered around Lassen Peak – an active volcano that last erupted in the early 1900s. Check out the bubbling mud sulfur vents, and ascend up to the top of Lassen Peak, the highest peak in the park.
Because of it’s extremely high elevation, you need to be prepared for snow on this 5.1 mile out-and-back hike. Bring warm clothing, hiking poles, and heavy duty hiking boots to ensure you don’t slip while hiking this national park trail. Views from the top will take your breath away and there’s always the added bonus of being able to say you hiked an active volcano!
Sequoia National Park: Tokopah Falls
Next up on the list is Sequoia National Park’s Tokopah Falls. Unlike the previous national park trails, Tokopah Falls is an easier hike and fun for the whole family. With only a 639 foot elevation gain, this 4 mile out-and-back trail is just long enough to give you a good workout without completely exhausting you.
Enjoy seeing wildlife along the trail, as well as green meadows, streams, and a glistening waterfall at the end!
Kings Canyon National Park: Mist Falls
While you’re trekking through the beautiful outdoors that Sequoia National Park has to offer, take a quick drive to Kings Canyon National Park too. The two parks are separate, but they sit adjacent to each other which makes for a great day trip to both. Mist Falls is a huge attraction at Kings Canyon and for good reason. Even though 8 miles sounds like a lengthy hike, you can get this one done in 3 hours if you go at a decent pace.
Make sure to bring bug spray for this national park trail because the mosquitoes will eat you up! Other than insects, Mist Falls offers a wide variety of scenery. Wildlife like bears are regularly seen along the hike, as well as a flowing river and a misty waterfall!
Best Sacramento Hiking Trails
While the national park trails are gorgeous nature escapes, there are tons of other lesser known gems in the Sacramento area. If you’re looking for nearby hiking trails that are just as breathtaking and much less crowded, consider incorporating these Sacramento hiking areas into your itinerary.
Auburn Recreational Area: Clementine Trail
The Auburn Recreational Area is located just outside of Sacramento and includes a bunch of trails that spread from the recreation area to the Auburn Dam, passing the north and south forks of the American River. The Clementine Trail is a great summer hike because it takes you to Clark’s Pool, a popular swimming hole, and ends at a cascading waterfall.
The hike is rocky and steep at certain points, with gradual hills mixed in as well. Overall, it’s a moderately difficult hike that you’ll want to get an early start on (before the heat of the day). Bring your dogs and keep them on leash for extra company!
COVID-19 Update: Learn more about guidelines and restrictions, updated on July 24, 2020.
Sacramento Recreational River: Jedediah Smith Trail
Next up on the list of Sacramento hiking trails is the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail. If you prefer a more easy hiking experience, this is a good one for you. The entire path is paved and perfect for a relaxing walk to get your day going. Starting at Discovery Park in downtown Sacramento, this trail runs 31 miles, ending at Beal’s Point.
Take in sights of the American River running along the entire path, and make use of the multiple river access points to jump in for a refreshing swim. Benches, restrooms, water fountains, and a whole lot of scenery make this Sacramento hiking trail a wonderful nature escape.
Desolation Wilderness: Eagle Lake Trail
If you live near Sacramento, chances are you’ve taken a weekend trip up to Lake Tahoe. Well, pack up your suitcase again because it’s time to explore this spot on foot. The Eagle Lake Trail is one of the best hiking trails in northern California because of its stunning views high above Lake Tahoe. This 1.8 mile hike is rated as moderate in difficulty due to some steep inclines, but it’s nothing too hard to handle.
Get a birds eye view of Emerald Bay and Eagle Lake, all while trekking through beautiful pines. Like many of the previous hikes listed, this is a popular hike and crowds build up quickly. Pack a nice picnic and head to the top early in the morning to have a more peaceful experience!
Tahoe National Forest: The Emerald Pools
Get your water shoes on and prepare for a trip to the Emerald Pools in Tahoe National Forest. This 0.7 mile hike is easy and great for all skill levels. Just as the water in Lake Tahoe is absolutely stunning, the Emerald Pools are full of crystal clear water that has the vibrant green color of an emerald. Explore around the upper and lower pools, cross a river gorge, and have a nice quiet picnic in the surrounding forest. Don’t forget to bring you water shoes because there’s lots of boulders to climb on, but they can be a little slippery!
Tahoe National Forest: Yuba Rim Trail
Just outside of Nevada City is yet another nature escape you don’t want to miss out on. The Yuba Rim Trail is a little over 4 miles long and totally worth the effort. Enjoy views of snow-capped peaks, the flowing water of the Yuba River, and a rock quarry seen below the ridge line. Wildlife can also be seen along the path, so bring your binoculars! Just make sure to watch out for poison oak and rattlesnakes as you hike along the rim.
And there you have it! These 10 hiking trails in northern California are some of the best you’ll experience in your lifetime. With a little preparation beforehand (and maybe some cardio), you’ll feel refreshed and invigorated after visiting these nature escapes. Don’t forget to book your room or suite at Hard Rock Sacramento to have a luxurious bed to come back to after all that hiking!