The Ultimate Backpacking Bucket List for California

California, United States

Garmin

Wilderness as far as the eye can see.

Did you know that California is home to over 14 million acres of wilderness. You read that correctly. Over 14 million! Even the most driven explorer with all the time in the world couldn’t hike every trail in California in a single lifetime. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try. If you’re able to carve out the time for one of the classic thru hikes like the JMT or the PCT, then get after it! For those of you who can only make time for a long weekend trip, this list of 50 backpacking trips in California is just what you need to fuel your next adventure to the backcountry.

Northern California

From the rugged Pacific coast to the dense redwood forests to the summit of Mt. Shasta, Northern California has no shortage of diverse backcountry terrain. Tackle the Lost Coast or spend a couple days relaxing in Redwood National and State Parks...you can’t go wrong.

1. Backpack Devil’s Punchbowl, Six Rivers National Forest


Photo: Joshua Contois

2. Climb Mt. Shasta via Clear Creek Route


Photo: Daniel Sherman

3. Hike to Etna Mountain Summit


Photo: Greg Balkin

4. Backpack the Sky High Lakes in the Marble Monutains


Photo: Chaney Swiney

5. Backpack Redwood National and State Parks


Photo: Austin Trigg

6. Backpack to Canyon Creek Lakes


Photo: Dan Loch

7. Backpack the Lost Coast: Mattole to Black Sands Beach


Photo: Whitney Whitehouse

8. Backpack the Stuart Fork Trail to Emerald and Sapphire Lakes


Photo: Joshua Contois

Bay Area

Living around the Bay Area is ideal for anyone who wants to live a city life but needs to have quick access to the wild. You can drive anywhere from 1-3 hours from San Francisco and find some truly stunning landscapes. Beach camping, epic summits, and more redwoods await.

9. Backpack to King’s Peak from Shelter Cove


Photo: Aja Pete

10. Backpack to Pt. Reyes Coast Campground


Photo: Josiah Roe

11. Backpack the Glen Camp Loop via the Palomarin Trailhead


Photo: Jeff Driscoll

12. Backpack to Point Reyes Wildcat Camp


Photo: Miranda Leconte

13. Backpack Sam McDonald Park


Photo: Ashley Chang

14. Backpack the Bear Valley to Coast Camp Loop


Photo: Jeff Driscoll

15. Backcountry Camp at Big Basin Sunset Trail Camp


Photo: Christian Arballo

16. Backpack to Redfern Pond


Photo: Ashley Chang

17. Backpack to Pat Springs


Photo: Max Berger

18. Backpack the Pine Ridge in Big Sur, North Coast Ridge Loop


Photo: Chris Diantonio

19. Backpack to the Ventana Wilderness’ Sykes Hot Springs


Photo: Blake Maitoza

20. Climb Cone Peak in Big Sur, Sea to Sky Route


Photo: Josiah Roe

21. Backpack to Goat Camp in Big Sur


Photo: Andrew Conway

The Sierra Mountains

The mighty Sierra are a major draw for people around the world. Early explorers like John Muir and Ansel Adams had obsessions with these mountains and made them famous with their writing and photos. But even the best writers and photographers can’t do these mountains justice...you need to see them for yourself.

22. Backpack to Ropi Lake


Photo: Emily Kent

23. Backpack to Leavitt Lake in Stanislaus National Forest


Photo: Jake Young

24. Backpack to the Waterfall Camp in Desolation Wilderness


Photo: Jake Young

25. Backpack to Middle Velma Lake


Photo: Christian Arballo

26. Backpack to Susie Lake in Desolation Wilderness


Photo: Miranda Leconte

27. Backpack to Gilmore Lake in Desolation Wilderness


Photo: Jake Young

28. Hike and Climb to Mt. Conness


Photo: Alex Souza

29. Backpack to Vogelsang and Merced Lake High Sierras Camp


Photo: Julie & Brian

30. Backpack Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley


Photo: Kevin Abernethy

31. Backpack Cathedral Lakes


Photo: Addison Klinke

32. Backpack atop Donohue Pass


Photo: Alex Souza

33. Backpack Lower & Upper Relief Valleys and the East Flange Rock


Photo: Josiah Roe

34. Backpack Sunrise Lakes to Clouds Rest


Photo: Nathaniel Polta

35. Backpack to Duck Lake


Photo: Sierra Joy

36. Backpack Agnew Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows


Photo: Jeff Driscoll

37. Backpack Ansel Adams’ Banner Lake


Photo: Addison Klinke

38. Backpack to Ediza Lake


Photo: Tobin Akehurst

39. Backpack to Crater Lake, Sierra National Forest


Photo: Emily Rudger

40. Backpack from Onion Valley to Mt. Whitney


Photo: Jeff Driscoll

41. Backpack the Rae Lakes Loop


Photo: Kevin Kaminski

42. Backpack to Mount Silliman, Sequoia NP


Photo: Debra Alison

Southern California

Explore the desert expanse of Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks or charge the trails on the sunny California coast. Down south, the water is warmer and beach camping is that much better...not sold yet? Check out these adventures.

43. Backpack to Panamint Dunes


Photo: Sarah Eichstedt

44. Backpack the Boy Scout’s Trail in Joshua Tree


Photo: Ian Buchanan

45. Backcountry Camp in Joshua Tree


Photo: Lauren Shusterman

46. Beach Camp on Santa Rosa Island


Photo: Michael Wigle

47. Backpack Mt. Williamson from Shepherd Pass


Photo: Jack Brumbaugh

48. Backpack Eaton Canyon to Idlehour


Photo: Alan Leung

49. Backpack the Trans-Catalina Trail


Photo: Drew Robinson

50. Backpack Zaca Ridge


Photo: Michael Wigle

Add these backpacking trips to your bucket list and let us know how you do. The truth is, this list only scratches the surface of the wealth of amazing backpacking you can find in California. But just because you’ve been told you can’t explore all of California’s wilderness in a lifetime, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

Cover photo: Josiah Roe

Published: December 20, 2016

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