11 Incredible hikes in Northern California for outdoor lovers

Some of our links are affiliated, we will earn a commission when you buy a service or product. This will have no extra cost for you. For further info please refer to our Privacy Policy

If you love the outdoors as we do, you know that a scenic hike can be the perfect way to spend your day. So you better know that Northern California hiking trails will lead you to stunning views, waterfalls, and much more. There are plenty of good reasons why hikes in Northern California are so popular among locals and tourists, with the top reason being the abundance of hiking trails for all levels. 

While planning a trip to California, you are probably thinking of visiting Malibu, LA, San Diego and San Francisco. These are fantastic destinations worth seeing, but don’t forget to add more stops in the Northern region. NorCal offers incredible outdoor experiences beyond beaches, cities, and tourist attractions.

To give you a taste of what is waiting for you, here are the top 11 hikes in Northern California that we recommend you do when exploring this golden state: 

Top hikes in Northern California

1. Tahoe East Shore Trail 

  • Trail Distance: 2.6 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 144 feet
  • Location: Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe with snow-capped mountains in the background. It illustrates some of the best hiking in Northern California.
Lake Tahoe has some of the best hikes in Northern California, that’s for sure!

The Tahoe East Shore Trail takes you through some beautiful scenery along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe. You’ll pass by rocks that resemble castles, trees growing out of rock faces, and small beaches with sandy shores. It’s also easy to access this trail from several points along Highway 28. This trail is also known as one of the best bike trails in the US, and you can bike on this trail too, which is one of the best things to do in Lake Tahoe in the summer. It’s a good option for those looking for flat trekking with panoramic views of the lake.

You can find information about parking, trails dos and don’ts about this Northern California trail here.

2. Cave Rock Trail

  • Trail Distance: 0.8 mile
  • Elevation Gain: 137 feet 
  • Location: Lake Tahoe 
A road beside Lake Tahoe in California. It's a great destination for hiking in Northern California.
One more stunning view from another incredible NorCal hiking trail.

Cave Rock is a rock formation that juts out of the water in Lake Tahoe. One of the best Lake Tahoe hikes, the Cave Rock Trail isn’t very strenuous, but there are some steep sections near the top where you’ll have to scramble up rocks and boulders. The sweeping views at the end of this hike make it stand out from other trails in the area. From atop Cave Rock, you can see Lake Tahoe stretching out before you with mountains in the distance, including Mt. Tallac, which sits 9,739 feet high. 

If you plan to stay longer and do more than a day hike (a weekend trip is a good idea), check these hotels to stay near Lake Tahoe.

3. Lands End Trail

  • Trail Distance: 3.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 538 feet
  • Location: San Francisco 

The Lands End Trail is a popular hiking trail in San Francisco, with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate Bridge, Sutro Baths and more. As it’s a popular coastal trail, expect crowds on weekends and holidays (especially during summer). If you want to avoid crowds, consider hiking early in the morning or late in the evening when there are fewer people on this popular trail in San Francisco.

All the information about this hiking trail is on The United States National Parks website. And if you are searching for a place to stay, check out these hotels in San Francisco.

4. Fern Canyon Loop Trail

  • Trail Distance: 1.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 118 feet
  • Location: Redwood National and State Parks
People are hiking in the canyon. It's on the Fern Canyon Loop Trail in Northern California.
Do you want to hike in the middle of a lush green forest? No problem, the Fern Canyon hike is waiting for you!

The Fern Canyon Loop Trail is a short, easy hike in the Redwood National and State Parks. It runs through a dense forest of redwood trees before descending into a lush canyon full of ferns, some more than 30 feet tall. A few scenes from the movie Jurassic Park: The Lost World were shot here.

Be prepared to get your feet wet, as there is plenty of water on the canyon floor. Usually, between June and September, there are wooden footbridges installed in Fern Canyon to help hikers get partway up Home Creek without getting too wet. 

Before going on this Northern California hike adventure, read about the Fern Canyon Trail here.

5. Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail

  • Trail Distance: 1.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 101 feet
  • Location: Redwood National and State Parks
Photo of a sign point to the lady Bird Johnson Grove trail at the Redwood National Park with a lush green forest in the background.
Redwood Park has some of the best hikes in Northern California.

The Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail takes you through an old-growth incredible redwood forest with many downed logs to walk on. The tree canopy provides shade on sunny days, and due to the high elevation of this redwood grove, you’ll often see fog throughout the trail. There are interpretive signs along the way that describe the unique features of redwood trees and other plants that can be found in this habitat.

Check out the National Park Service article for more information about the Redwood Grooves and trail.

6. Upper Yosemite Falls Trail

  • Trail Distance: 7.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,218 feet
  • Location: Yosemite National Park
Photo of Upper Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America. It is located at the Yosemite National Park.
Are you ready to admire the tallest waterfall in North America?

One of the most iconic images of Yosemite National Park is that of Upper Yosemite Falls, a waterfall that drops 2,425 feet, making it the tallest waterfall in North America. The trail to see it up close is one of the most popular hikes in the park and on most tourists’ bucket lists.

As you hike up through many switchbacks, be ready for a strenuous trail and our recommendation is to bring lots of water as it will take a couple of hours. The good side is that you will see aerial views of Yosemite Valley and many peaks, including Half Dome.

While this entire hike takes you to the Yosemite Waterfall summit, you can hike just 1.5 miles for the first glance of the falls and choose to walk back.

It doesn’t matter if you choose to face the whole trail or just a quick return trip to have a sneak peek of the falls, read the park travel guide for all the safety information.

7. Lower Yosemite Falls Trail

  • Trail Distance: 1.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 59 feet
  • Location: Yosemite National Park
Photo of the Lower Yosemite Falls taken from a hiking trail in Northern California.
More waterfalls and more stunning hikes at Yosemite National Park.

If you want to see both the Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls without climbing all the way up to see them from above, this is the trail that you should definitely hike at Yosemite National Park. Incredible views are guaranteed! The trail leads hikers through a forest and Yosemite Creek before opening up to a bridge to see, hear and feel the majesty of the Lower Yosemite Falls. 

All the information about safety and access to this incredible hike in California is here.

If you have some extra time, enjoy Yosemite as much as possible. The park is located in the Western Sierra Nevada Mountain Range with impressive rocky mountain peaks and the famous Sentinel Dome. It’s a paradise for outdoor lovers with many challenging and enjoyable hikes, all of them with beautiful views. Look at these hotels near Yosemite National Park, and plan your trip wisely.

8. Lassen Peak Trail

  • Trail Distance: 5.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,968 feet
  • Location: Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Peak is the heart of Lassen Volcanic National Park. Lassen Peak is the largest lava dome on Earth. It’s the second tallest peak in the Cascades Range – one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the US – rising to 10,457 feet above sea level. The summit of Lassen Peak offers spectacular views of Lassen Volcanic National Park and Mount Shasta. 

It’s good to mention that the park has an active volcano, so you better read the safety information about this trail before going there. 

9. Cinder Cone Nature Trail

  • Trail Distance: 4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,043 feet
  • Location: Lassen Volcanic National Park

A cinder cone is a volcano shaped like a cone but with a crater on the top. As you hike up to the top, you can see the Painted Dunes, the Fantastic Lava Beds, Snag Lake, Lassen Peak and Prospect Peak. Hiking this trail can be challenging as the terrain is similar to hiking on sand dunes. But the views at the top are worth it!

Here is all the info about this Northern California hiking trail.

10. Bumpass Hell Trail

  • Trail Distance: 2.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 423 feet
  • Location: Lassen Volcanic National Park 

The largest hydrothermal area in Lassen Volcanic National Park, Bumpass Hell is a must-see for fumaroles, mudholes, and sulphur bubbling in the area. The trail is seasonally open in the summer and fall, so make a note of that when planning your trip to this park. And don’t forget to read all the safety tips.

11. Sonoma Coast Overlook Vista Trail

  • Trail Distance: 0.9 mile
  • Elevation Gain: 49 feet
  • Location: Sonoma Coast State Park
Photo of a coast hiking in California. It's a trail in Sonoma County showing the Pacific Ocean and the impressive rock cliffs near the water.
Sonoma County has some of the best hikes in California.

Located in Sonoma County, this trail offers beautiful ocean views of the Pacific Coast and you can admire the Bodega Head, Goat Rock, Russian River, Arched Rock and more. You can see Point Reyes in the farthest back if it’s not foggy. This northernmost vista shows you most of the Sonoma Coast and its secluded beaches. If you’re here during the winter, you might spot some gray whales.

Stay in the area longer if you are a fan of coastal hikes. Here are some options for accommodation near the Sonoma Coast State Park.

Why should you go hiking in Northern California?

Northern California hiking trails are among the most beautiful trails in America. There’s something about the redwood forests, clear lakes, and snow-capped mountains of Northern California that will get your adventure-loving heart rate up. 

Filled with national parks, state parks and outdoor recreation areas, California has no shortage of epic adventures to choose from. But before planning your trip, remember that you will need hiking boots, trekking poles, water bottles, and a comfy hiking backpack for some of the trails. Planning your itinerary ahead is also advised, especially if you decide to make an overnight trip to some of the Northern California parks. 

For more travel planning suggestions, read our travel tips resource here. We hope this guide helps you choose, navigate, and have fun on these best hikes in Northern California!

A practical guide to the best hikes in Northern California, from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite hiking trails, we covered it all. Tips about where to go for the best trails in Northern California, when to go hiking, and safety tips. Plus tours, activities, and hotel recommendations so you can enjoy some of the best hikes in California.


Rasika is the owner of the travel blog Bae Area and Beyond. She is from the Bay Area and her blog covers California destinations. She hopes that her readers will fall in love with California, just like she did.