The 10 Best Hikes in Northern California

Hiker on Lassen Peak Trail in Northern California

benedek / Getty Images

Stretching from the Oregon border past the coastlines of Sonoma County and the redwood groves near San Francisco to the forests of Tahoe and the mountains of Yosemite, Northern California holds a special place in the hearts of all hikers who’ve experienced this special portion of the country. Read on to discover 10 of the best hikes in Northern California.

01 of 10

Alamere Falls

Alamere Falls
dypics / Getty Images
Alamere Falls, California 94924, USA

Wondering where you can visit one of the few waterfalls on Earth that flow directly into the ocean? Alamere Falls is found in the Phillip Burton Wilderness, about an hour north of San Francisco near Point Reyes and Bodega Bay. The hike itself spans an impressive 13 miles round trip, starting from Wildcat Campground, which is accessible from each of the Bear Valley, Palomarin, and Five Brooks Trailheads. At the end of the trail, hikers are rewarded with stunning views of the ocean, wildflower meadows, and of course, the 40-foot Alamere Falls.

02 of 10

Founders’ Grove Trail

Dyerville Giant, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, CA
lucentius / Getty Images
Founders Grove, California 95569, USA

Located in Humboldt Redwoods State Park in Southern Humboldt County, the Founders’ Grove Trail takes visitors to one of the most beloved coastal redwood groves in California. The famed Avenue of Giants cuts through the grove at the center of an easy, half-mile-long loop that’s well-marked and well-maintained, perfect for families and beginner hikers. Apart from the massive, namesake Founders Tree, the trail also passes the Dyerville Giant, believed to be one of the largest fallen redwood trees in the world at 362 feet long and 52 feet in circumference.

03 of 10

Salt Point Trail

Tafoni rock and the Pacific Ocean shoreline at Salt Point State Park, Sonoma County, California
Gerald Corsi / Getty Images
23499 Shoreline Hwy, Jenner, CA 95450, USA

Sonoma County’s Salt Point State Park is a 6,000-acre marine reserve known for rugged coastal visas and foggy mornings. Popular with all levels of hikers, the 3-mile, round-trip Salt Point Trail starts at the parking lot near the Salt Point Visitor Center and has little elevation gain (the first 750 feet of the hike is paved). Try your luck spotting wildlife both in and out of the water, marvel at the sandstone tafoni rock formations, or simply take in the salty ocean air from the shoreline.

04 of 10

Lassen Peak Trail

Lassen peak trail
maislam / Getty Images
Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, Mill Creek, CA 96061, USA

Don’t let the distance fool you—the 5-mile, round-trip Lassen Peak Trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park is hot, rocky, and not for the faint of heart. Hikers will gain an elevation of just under 2,000 feet as they reach the top of Lassen Peak, the third-highest peak in the Shasta Cascade region of Northern California. Though the 10,457-foot Mount Lassen last erupted in 1921, the smell of sulfur in the air has lingered, a reminder to hikers that the volcano here is still technically active, albeit dormant.

Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10

Stoute Memorial Grove Trail

A hiker stands amongst giant Redwood Trees while visiting Stout Grove, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
Christopher Kimmel / Getty Images
17 West 4th Avenue, Crescent City, CA 95531, USA
Phone +1 707-465-7335

An easy, 0.5-mile walk through Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park, this trail is an absolute favorite among photographers thanks to its simple accessibility and the flat grove of well-lit, healthy redwoods. The loop trail also features bright green ferns, moss-covered fallen trunks, and plenty of spots to relax among the majestic old-growth trees. Although this hike is short and sweet, it usually doesn’t get too busy; still, parking is limited so we recommend arriving early to snag a space.

06 of 10

Yosemite Falls Trail

Scenic landscape with mountains and forest
H Peter Ji / 500px / Getty Images
Yosemite Falls Trail, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389, USA
Phone +1 209-372-0200

We couldn’t imagine a list of Northern California’s best hikes that doesn’t mention Yosemite National Park, home of such iconic natural monuments like Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls. The hike along Yosemite Falls Trail is 7.2 miles round trip, offering up amazing views of the falls and the surrounding valley. Although the trail is rated as strenuous (hikers should be prepared for a difficult, 2,700-foot elevation gain and a series of switchbacks), the falls are nothing short of breathtaking as they rise 2,425 feet above the Valley floor, making it the tallest waterfall in North America. Come here in the spring months when the cascade is at its fullest.

07 of 10

Lands End Trail

seen from Lands End
Martina Birnbaum / Getty Images
Lands End Trail, San Francisco, CA 94121, USA

It’s not difficult to fall in love with San Francisco, but many travelers don’t realize that—among its world-class restaurants, ample shopping opportunities, and vibrant communities—the city also boasts some pretty incredible hiking trails. Many of these are found inside the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, an 83,000-acre national park spread across three counties. Of its more than 250 established trails, one of the more popular hikes is Land’s End Trail, which features several vantages of the famous Golden Gate Bridge along with views of the historic Sutro Baths and a few shipwrecks at low tide. Generally considered easy to moderate, this loop hike covers 3.4 miles on the north end of the city.

08 of 10

Rainbow Falls Trail

Rainbow falls in Mammoth lake area
Created by drcooke / Getty Images
California, USA

Close to Mammoth Mountain, this is the southernmost hike on our list. The 1.7-mile Rainbow Falls Trail intersects with both the John Muir Wilderness and Pacific Crest Trails, beginning in John Muir Wilderness territory before entering Devils Postpile National Monument (about a half-mile in). True to its name, the 101-foot waterfall creates a colorful rainbow at the end of the trail when the mist hits the sunlight just right, though regular visitors maintain that the best time to catch the rainbows is in midday when the sun is at its highest.

Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10

Fern Canyon Loop Trail

 Woman Hiking Fern Canyon Prarie Creek
Hutch Axilrod / Getty Images
Fern Canyon, California 95555, USA

Fern Canyon Loop Trail is a 1-mile hike inside Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park that guides visitors through spruce forests (no redwoods here!) and along a cobbled stream surrounded by ferns. Also frequented by a herd of Roosevelt elk, the trail has an elevation gain of 150 feet. This is one of the most well-known hikes in the area, so you’ll need to apply for a free Gold Bluffs Beach/Fern Canyon parking permit if you plan to visit from May through September. You can also reach Fern Canyon via an 11-mile, round-trip trail that departs from Prairie Creek Visitor Center; permits aren't required if you choose this route.

10 of 10

Sierra Buttes Lookout Trail

Sierra Nevada mountains and foothills near Mono Lake, California
Dmitri Zelenevski / Getty Images
Sierra Buttes Trail, Sierra City, CA 96125, USA

This difficult 4.8-mile, out-and-back trail can be found near Sierra City. With a 1,548-foot elevation gain and some epic switchbacks that can make the trail markers tricky to navigate, the Sierra Buttes Lookout Trail requires some good research beforehand even for the most experienced hikers. In addition to the wildflower meadows (known for their rich display of butterflies and other pollinators) and the views of the lakes from the hike’s midsection, the trail offers a 360-degree view of the entire Sacramento Valley (and occasionally Lassen Peak) from its highest point.

Article Sources
TripSavvy uses only high-quality, trusted sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Humboldt County Visitors Bureau. "Founder's Grove & The Dyerville Giant." Accessed June 1, 2022.

  2. Visit California. "Spotlight: Lassen Volcanic National Park." Accessed June 1, 2022.

  3. National Park Service. "Yosemite Falls Trail." Accessed June 1, 2022.

  4. National Park Service. "Golden Gate National Recreation Area." Accessed June 1, 2022.

Back to List

The 10 Best Hikes in Northern California